IDA Defers Most Biz to New Year; But Boots Marketing Firm Into Past

Dade County boss Ted Rumley listens to a presentation by NextSite 360's Andy Camp in November 2017. The marketing company was hired to lure retail businesses to Dade. None appeared, and now IDA has given NextSite the shove.

Moving into 2019, The Dade Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will have a lot that’s new: Its longtime chairman, Nathan Wooten, is stepping down after 12 years on the board; a new chairperson will be elected in January. IDA’s executive director and only full-time employee, William Back, took over only this fall. And IDA’s website has been reconfigured to direct most basic Ec-Dev inquiries away from Dade to a statewide Georgia Power economic site.

But one more new element—the member appointed to the IDA board to replace Wooten—is in one sense a return to the tried and true: The new IDA board member in 2019 will be Peter Cervelli, who preceded Back as ED and in one capacity or another has been doing economic development in Dade almost as long as there has been economic development in Dade. Cervelli worked before IDA for the city of Trenton.

Cervelli (left, foreground) made his first appearance as an IDA board member—and Wooten made his last as chairman—at the group’s regular December meeting on the 10th. Not much was accomplished though plenty was discussed at that meeting, with a pervading sense the board was deferring serious business until after the holidays.

This included IDA’s 2019 budget, which was tabled after a brief discussion ended in members deciding they didn’t understand the figures as presented to them well enough to go further. Members also put off making a decision about a hotel feasibility study Back suggested they authorize for the Highway 299 area in Wildwood.

Back explained the deal: Georgia Power had “graciously offered” IDA a $10,000 grant that Dade would pay $9800 of to a specified engineering firm to do the study. Then, if the engineering firm deemed it was feasible to build a hotel at 299, Dade would pay the firm a further $2500 to write a report saying so.

The value of the proposition seemed to elude the board members, especially since, as Back had specified when he brought up the project at the October meeting, “It’s ultimately up to the franchisee whether he opens a new hotel.”

Board member Sharon Moore expressed confusion: Was this that same dubious marketing firm IDA had hired a couple of years ago popping back up again?

No, no, Back assured her; she was thinking about NextSite 360, which IDA had given the boot in October (more on that in a minute); this was a different firm performing a different service.

But Back got no enthusiasm from the board, and agreed when Chairman Wooten suggested: “I think I’d get some references.”

Chairman Wooten announced that the new Jefferson’s restaurant gearing up to operate in Dade had postponed its targeted opening date to Jan. 7. “They ran into a number of SNAFUs,” he said. Not only had the new owners had to gut and redo the old Randy’s Restaurant building, said Wooten, but they had met a number of procedural roadblocks. “As issues came up, they didn’t know who to call,” said Wooten. He would have preferred IDA or the Dade Chamber of Commerce to have been more help on practical matters, said the chairman.

“The chamber used to provide a list,” said Cervelli.

Wooten suggested a welcome package for incoming businesses going forward.

IDA’s chief mission is to bring jobs into the county, but, said Back at the Dec. 10 meeting: “We have a problem that our local employers have some difficulty filling jobs.”

IDA had a full house for its last meeting of 2019. Beginning at near head of table and going clockwise are Executive Director William Back, board member Sharon Moore, Chairman Nathan Wooten, members Doug Anderton and Peter Cervelli, Attorney Robin Rogers, members Larry Case, Larry Moore and George Nelson.

So, said Back, IDA was partnering with the Dade Board of Education on a new work/study program at Dade High School, whereby students will go to class part of the day and spend the other part working at a participating Dade employer, which might feasibly hire him for real after graduation. “It’s also a reason for that person to remain in Dade County,” said Back.

He announced that the city of Trenton had received its long-awaited ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) grant for $128,000, which will be used to pave Vanguard Road next spring.

IDA incentivized Vanguard, a truck trailer manufacturer, to build a plant in Trenton that was completed in 2016. Vanguard has so far filled about half the 400 jobs it promised as its part of the bargain; but now, said Back, the manufacturer is adding a second shift. As it grows, he said, Vanguard is encountering traffic difficulties and was requesting at least a flashing caution light at Vanguard Road’s Highway 11 crossing.

“Have there been any accidents?" asked Cervelli.

“There have been two or three close calls,” said board member Larry Case. “I know because I’ve been in them.” Those big trucks don’t stop, he told the board.

“Certain times of day, I don’t how they get out of there,” said Wooten.

Wooten said big rigs were becoming a problem elsewhere, too. “There’s tractor-trailers all over town where they’re not supposed to be,” he said. “Somehow that’s got to stop.” Eighteen-wheelers had turned up on Sunset, in the Edgewood Subdivision and even Church Street, said the chairman, apparently because of some problem with Vanguard not appearing on GPS maps. “I think the right person to ask is Google,” said Wooten.

But as far as the caution lights and signage to direct trucks to Vanguard, the members agreed to consult Trenton Mayor Alex Case instead.

Which directed the discussion to Back's ostensible favorite subject: signs; specifically, where he should put a new industrial park sign and what name should be put on it.

“The only people who are going to use it are employees who already know,” said Wooten.

“It’s actually 'Trenton-Dade Industrial Park,' ” said Cervelli.

“That’s a lot of letters,” said Back.

No action was taken.

IDA did not meet in November at all. It did meet for October on Oct. 29. The one action item of note at that meeting was that IDA, as referenced above, finally gave Nextsite 360 its walking papers.

NextSite 360 is a specialized marketing company IDA had contracted with a couple of years ago to recruit new retail businesses to Dade. But no such businesses had ever materialized and board members complained more vociferously as each month passed at how little information they were receiving from the marketing firm.

Chairman Wooten said at the Oct. 29 meeting he’d told Nextsite 360 the board needed to hear from it each month. “I haven’t heard from them since,” he said, recommending the board terminate IDA’s relationship with the firm.

“They haven’t done anything for us,” agreed Larry Case.

Back recommended keeping the company on until its contract was up for renewal on Feb. 1. “Their focus has always been on Trenton,” he said. Now, said Back, he wanted them to look into the Highway 299 area.

But Wooten recommended going ahead and giving NextSite the push, and Back backpedaled. “It felt like a hustle from day one,” he said of the firm.

Also discussed at the Oct. 29 meeting, besides signs, was the possibility of allowing Lookout Mountain Flight Park to make use of the scenic overlook nearby it on Lookout, where apparently Dade has a cell tower at present. Paragliding, said Back, an attraction that the flight park was expanding, attracts more people than hang gliding, and could greatly increase Dade’s tourism potential.

Another topic discussion in October was changing the per-acre price for industrial park land IDA is listing as available. In actuality, IDA gives the land free to manufacturers who promise to bring new jobs into the county, but it was discussed that upping the prices made it seem like a better bargain for the prospective “buyer.”

Prospective investors in Dade must now search for available sites, land prices and incentives on a statewide Georgia Power site to which IDA's website redirects them. The Planet hopes they have better luck finding them than The Planet did.

IDA had previously published a schedule of land prices depending on size of investment and number of jobs promised. With the subsuming of Dade’s economic development information into the statewide Georgia Power site, IDA’s website no longer displays that information.

The next IDA meeting is at 3 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, in the Dade Administrative Building.

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