“It’s been quite a journey, I think about 18 months or so as we’ve developed Cobb’s Competitive EDGE, and it’s very exciting because it’s our first comprehensive community and economic development strategy,” said EDGE co-chair Kim Menefee, WellStar Health System’s senior vice president of public and government affairs.
WellStar has pledged $250,000 to the EDGE program, a five-year economic development strategy that will be housed and staffed at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce in the form of a nonprofit.
EDGE co-chair Dan Styf, vice president of regional and marketing strategy with Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, described what the strategy intends to accomplish. Kaiser has also pledged $250,000 to EDGE.
By the end of the five-year term, EDGE will have created 7,500 new jobs, increased payroll earnings and income by $420 million and $7,000 per capita in Cobb County, reduced unemployment to 5.5 percent, increased the public school graduation rate by 4 percent and increased the number of college-bound students in Cobb by 7 percent, Styf said.
Two years ahead
County Chairman Tim Lee said most metro Atlanta counties are where Cobb was two years ago.
“When we sit back four years from now and look back at our successes and talk about this evening, we’re going to do it with such great pride, we’re going to do it with such enthusiasm, and we’re going to be proud to say, ‘I was part of that, you know, I was there.’ And it’s the folks that stepped out and put their money where their mouth is that I’m most appreciative inasmuch as they’re helping make this happen,” Lee said.
During his last year as a district commissioner in 2009, Lee began working on the proposal that is now EDGE with Cobb Chamber of Commerce leaders Rob Garcia and David Connell.
“We needed a more structured, focused, aggressive economic development plan for the county, and we put our heads together and started to work on a plan back then,” Lee said. “At that time, the Chamber was going through some changes, the county was obviously going through some changes, so it was tabled, and then when I became chair, we moved it forward, and this is the culmination of all of that.”
EDGE will have a $4 million budget over five years, funded mostly by businesses, with the possibility of some public dollars or in-kind donations.
Bank of North Georgia president Rob Garcia said they have raised $1.4 million of the $4 million to date. He urged businesses to open their checkbooks and help fund the program. Garcia’s bank has pledged $100,000.
“I want to challenge you financially. We need your help,” Garcia said.
Lee said Gwinnett County, Cobb’s biggest competitor, is trying to regain the confidence of its voters.
“We have that,” Lee said. “Cobb cities, all of the development authorities, all of the economic development folks, the Cobb County Travel and Tourism, our state partners, ACCG, GMA, all the groups associated with this that helped make this happen, they said to us, ‘Cobb you figure it out.’”
Lee said his answer to that was to appoint Brooks Mathis of Atlanta, who was hired two years ago as the Chamber’s economic development vice president, as the program’s executive director.
“We figured it out,” Lee said. “We got a guy right here as our point person for all 700,000 people. Brooks, he is the guy for us. And the state said when we get done with this program, the state is going to say to us every lead that comes into the state is going to come to Cobb County, I just know it.”
Cobb School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa spoke of the educational impact.
“I think that to continue the quality of life that we have in Cobb County, which I think the schools contribute to, we need to have a good economic development base, and it’s very important for the community to continue to grow, and so they’ve told me many times that part of the advantage of EDGE is that we have good schools to sell,” Hinojosa said. “And I believe that, and I think we need to be a part of that and be a player in this game, and we have a good thing going here in Cobb County.”
Competition from everywhere
Mason Zimmerman, who chairs the Town Center Area Community Improvement District, serves on the board of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, and is a senior vice president of Pope & Land, made a case of why it was crucial that Cobb become as competitive as possible.
The Town Center CID has pledged $17,000 to EDGE, he said.
Zimmerman’s development firm has been based in Cobb County 30 years building millions of square feet of office space, he said.
“This is important to us as an investor because we attract capital, we invest in this community, we are part of that audience, and we’re all in, we’re buying the mission, we love the metrics, we love the benchmarks, the performance standards, the clarity, the keys to success, that’s what it takes,” Zimmerman said.
It’s a competitive world, said Zimmerman, who lives in Gwinnett and has run his firm’s Charlotte office for the last six years. Pope & Land develops across metro Atlanta and in Charlotte, Charleston and Jacksonville, he said.
“We get what you’re doing here,” Zimmerman said. “So I would say to those who haven’t invested – this is exactly what Cobb needs to do, you’re doing it right, got the right people, you got the right committees, you got the right structure, and it’s necessary.
“We got a lot at stake. We’re at risk. And we’re all in. You’ve got to compete, not only with Gwinnett and north Fulton, but with Charlotte and Austin and Nashville and Jacksonville and Charleston, I know it. We’re there. So I’m so glad this team is here. I’m glad everyone in this room is here. Let’s all join hands and work it out.”
EDGE program committee chairs
Cobb’s Competitive EDGE will carry out its plan by targeting areas headed up by seven committees, which they call the “seven seeds of success.”
- Nicole Faulk, a regional manager for Georgia Power, chairs the committee known as Seed 1, which focuses on retaining and expanding existing business.
- Mitzi Moore, president of Sundial Plumbing, chairs the Seed 2 committee, which encourages entrepreneurship and aids small business.
- Otis Brumby III, publisher of the Marietta Daily Journal, chairs Seed 3, which focuses on marketing Cobb County and projecting a positive image.
- Beth Herman, a regional vice president with Manpower, chairs Seed 4, which focuses on recruiting, retaining and developing talent.
- Greg Teague, engineering services director for Croy Engineering, chairs Seed 5, investing in transportation and infrastructure.
- Dr. Bryan Crute, pastor of Destiny Metropolitan Worship Church, chairs Seed 6, supporting and coordinating redevelopment efforts.
- Lanie Shipp and Mary Lou Stephens with the Town Center Area CID chair Seed 7, cultivating community identities and a sense of place.