The Cobb Competitive Economic Development for a Growing Economy initiative, which kicked off in March, is a five-year economic development strategy housed at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce in the form of a 501(c)(3).
EDGE co-chair Dan Styf, vice president of regional and marketing strategy with Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, asked the CID for a $150,000 commitment over five years.
CID Vice Chairman John Shern said he preferred to give money in annual installments to track the program’s progress.
“There are some very measurable metrics to the success of this program, and I think we ought to have an opportunity to explore progress against those metrics,” Shern told Styf. “I think what you can take away from here is there is a sense of the board that we’re going to be with you for five years because it’s really necessary, but we’re going to commit dollars for a year and look at the progress.”
CID board member Bob Voyles asked if EDGE was similar to the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s economic development program, Forward Atlanta.
In many ways, it is, said Cobb Chamber CEO David Connell.
“Part of this effort includes Brooks Mathis’s role with bringing projects into this market, and a lot of the properties that have been shown recently have been in the Cumberland CID area, so part of the intent of this whole effort is to create interest in jobs in your market,” Connell said. “So yes, that is correct.”
Board member Mason Zimmerman, who is also chairman of the Town Center Area CID, argued in favor of the funding request in annual payments.
“I do also want to say that I think this is exactly what Cobb needs to be doing because everybody else is doing it, and we’ve got a lot of assets, and we need a way to cleanly and effectively promote the county,” Zimmerman said.
Mathis said the Town Center CID has already pledged $17,000 for the first year with an additional commitment of $17,000 each additional year up to five years, depending on the success of the program.
As the EDGE’s executive director and manager of a staff of five, Mathis said his group has raised $1.5 million. By the end of the five-year term, EDGE’s goal is to 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.
Cobb lacking office space
Mathis said one of the challenges in recruiting new companies to Cobb is the lack of office space in which to house them.
“We haven’t really gotten a bird in hand on a lot of that stuff, partially because for example in the Cumberland area we’ve had a lot of big prospects that want lots of space, contiguous space, they want to be on the second, third and fourth floor of a building. We can’t accommodate them right now,” Mathis said.
In one sense that is good news in that the Cumberland district, which is where much of the county’s Class A office space is located, has a healthy occupancy rate, Mathis said. But in order to grow, developers need to build more buildings.
Manufacturing space in Cobb is just as hard to find, he said.
“We had a request last week for over 1 million square feet,” Mathis said. “We do not have a site that can accommodate something that large.”
Mathis said that’s one reason he is excited about Marietta’s proposed $35 million urban redevelopment bond, which the City Council is considering placing before voters on Nov. 5. If much of that money is used to clear away aging apartment complexes along Franklin Road, freeing up space to build new office buildings, it will bring jobs to Cobb County.
“It’s perfect because it’s not far from Atlanta, they’ve got low taxes, it’s in an opportunity zone, and also it’s got two access points on the interstate, Delk Road and the South Loop, so it’s easily accessible. That really could be a game changer,” Mathis said.
Another strategy to job growth is to encourage existing companies to remain here and expand where they are. Companies that are already here and want to expand don’t have to be given costly incentives to lure them to locate in Cobb, Mathis said.