During a two-hour forum Thursday night, the seven Democrats — and there are only Democrats — running to represent south Cobb on the county’s governing board were in alignment on a number of issues.
Should MARTA expand into Cobb? Yes. Given the financial impact of the coronavirus, what services should the county cut? Not public safety.
But the candidates had a variety of answers when it came to boosting the district’s economic prospects.
“There’s nothing to do,” area resident O’Dell Thompson said back in February, after a meeting hosted by the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority. “No restaurants, no banks, no grocery stores. All we got is convenience stores, liquor stores, dollar stores. No place I want to spend my money.”
Changing that begins with the Magnolia Crossing property, said Shelia Edwards, a business owner and one of the candidates.
“I will put to rest the myth that the only economic development our community can get is a Family Dollar across the street from a Dollar General,” she said.
Redevelopment of the 50-acre Magnolia Crossing property — which is owned by the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority — could plant the seeds for district-wide growth, she said, and an end to the area’s status as a food and banking desert.
Almost all of the candidates could agree on “supporting” new and existing businesses, though it wasn’t always clear what exactly that meant.
Tenants’ rights activist Monica Delancy said the county should “support small businesses first” and invite them to attend economic development workshops.
Elliott Hennington, chair of the Powder Springs Community Taskforce, said he would offer businesses incentives and “bring them in, welcome them in, and show them the opportunities are here.”
Jonathan Hunt, building on that, said the county would need to “lay out the business case” for companies looking to invest in Cobb.
“South Cobb is rising,” said the senior director of corporate law at MARTA. So is the income of area residents. “Show that to (businesses).”
He also suggested the creation of new low- and no-interest loan programs for businesses and tax allocation districts along south Cobb’s main business corridors: Veterans Memorial Highway, which runs through Austell; Mableton Parkway, which becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Drive when it crosses the Chattahoochee River; and Riverside Parkway, near Six Flags Over Georgia.
Hunt wasn’t the only candidate to suggest investing in those specific areas.
“We have to look at other things the county has done,” said Edwin Mendez, a former youth minister. “For instance, in Veterans Memorial (Highway) they actually had tax incentives for businesses that are along that strip. that was a couple years back, but I think that was something we can go back to again.”
Monique Sheffield suggested showing businesses that the grass in south Cobb is greener — literally.
The co-owner of Sheffield Realty Group and former member of the Cobb Board of Zoning Appeals pitched a revitalization program, saying businesses along key corridors “can really benefit from a facade improvement program.”
“In order for us to attract businesses we must first make the current businesses attractive,” she continued. “We need a major overhaul with respect to our landscape of our community.”
Angelia Pressley, an adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University and managing director at a public relations firm, said the solution could be found in rebranding south Cobb as a center of green and cutting-edge industries.
The district has the lowest land cost in Cobb, she said, and its future commissioner could partner with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce to use that to lure biotech, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing companies to the area.
Each of the seven candidates are vying to replace current south Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who is running to chair the board she now serves on.
The primary election is June 9.