BUSI­NESS

The Covington News - - Front page -

eco­nomic land­scape of the 1950s, they saw a county lack­ing busi­ness di­ver­sity and in need of jobs: high­qual­ity, high-pay­ing jobs.

As Rob Fowler III re­calls, a group of now leg­endary lo­cal leaders, Carl Smith, Rob Fowler Sr., Otis Spillers, William McGa­hee and sev­eral oth­ers, de­cided they would form the Cov­ing­ton Busi­ness­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion. Each mem­ber made an in­vest­ment of around $10,000, a large sum in those days, to form a sort of pri­vate in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment au­thor­ity. Though Fowler is un­sure, he be­lieves the group helped pur­chase some land and bring in some small busi­nesses, like Hanover Wire Cloth, which man­u­fac­tured screen­ing ma­te­rial, and was founded in 1956.

More im­por­tantly, that group was a pre­cur­sor to the type of fu­ture co­op­er­a­tion that the city, county, the In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity and lo­cal busi­ness­men would exhibit in lur­ing in­dus­try to New­ton County. in in­dus­try. In a cou­ple of hotly de­bated votes, Fowler said the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil and New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers nar­rowly ap­proved the joint pur­chase of land from CSX rail­road, lo­cated south of In­ter­state 20. The two bodies agreed to split the cost 50-50, avoid­ing any con­flicts over who should pay what share of the prices and any tax is­sues.

This part­ner­ship, par­tic­u­larly the work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cov­ing­ton Mayor Bill Dobbs and County Chair­man Roy Varner, was in­stru­men­tal in at­tract­ing in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to every­one in­volved in lo­cal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment who was in­ter­viewed for this story.

“The chair­man and the mayor agreed they needed to get in­dus­try and they went out and got it. If they shook hands with the head of the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, a deal got done. Unity be­tween gov­ern­ment was very im­por­tant,” Fowler said.

That determination led to the at­trac­tion of four large in­dus­tries be­tween 1966 and 1969: Her­cules, Mo­bil Chem­i­cal Com­pany, Bard Uro­log­i­cal Divi­sion and Cov­ing­ton Mould­ing Com­pany. Most of th­ese names won’t be fa­mil­iar to those who only know the cur­rent in­dus­tries. Her­cules be­came Fibervi­sion, the Mo­bil plant changed own­er­ship mul­ti­ple times and is now di­vided be­tween Pac­tiv and Berry Plas­tics and Cov­ing­ton Mould­ing be­came SRG Global.

How­ever, as of 1988, the com­pa­nies re­tained their orig­i­nal names and em­ployed a to­tal 2,269; Her­cules alone em­ployed 1,000, ac­cord­ing to “The His­tory of New­ton County” by the New­ton County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. In fact, the New­ton County IDA was formed in 1966 specif­i­cally to bring in the Her­cules Project, said lawyer Ed Crudup, a 25- year mem­ber of the IDA.

Their ef­forts were aided by na­tional trends. Man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies from the tra­di­tion­ally in­dus­tri­al­ized North were mov­ing their plants south to take ad­van­tage of the cheaper, non-union­ized la­bor. Cov­ing­ton, like many other mill towns, had a par­tial ad­van­tage, in that a large por­tion of its work­force was al­ready skilled in man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The 1970s saw sev­eral smaller man­u­fac­tur­ers ar­rive, though none on the level of pre­vi­ous big four. Mead Con­tain­ers, the fore­run­ner of Smur­fit-Stone Con­tain­ers that man­u­fac­tured cor­ru­gated boxes, Beaver Man­u­fac­tur­ing, the largest do­mes­tic hose yarn pro­ducer in the U.S., OHCO, a tex­tile waste re­cy­cler, Valspar and South­ern Trans­former Com­pany all ar­rived dur­ing the decade.

From the late 1970s on­ward, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in New­ton County be­came syn­ony­mous with one com­pany, Pat­tillo Construction. Jerry Sil­vio worked with com­pany for many years and said Pat­tillo came to New­ton County be­cause it saw ded­i­cated lead­er­ship in­tent on ex­pand­ing in­dus­try. Af­ter pur­chas­ing land south of I-20, the com­mu­nity turned to more land owned by CSX, north of I20. An in­dus­trial park was be­ing formed.

The way Pat­tillo worked was this: the IDA would pur­chase land, and then Pat­tillo would con­struct spec­u­la­tive build­ings that suited the area. While the avail­able land was im­por­tant, Sil­vio said it was the spec build­ings that al­lowed in­dus­tries to en­vi­sion them­selves in a com­mu­nity. If a cus­tomer was found, Pat­tillo would ei­ther pur­chase the land from the IDA and rent the build­ing to the in­dus­try or the in­dus­try would buy the build­ing and land.

The go­ing was slow for the first few years as the coun­try was mired in a re­ces­sion, and it wasn’t un­til 1984 that Stan­ley Proto In­dus­trial Tools opened a dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter in Cov­ing­ton. When asked what brought Stan­ley to Cov­ing­ton, Sil­vio re­peated a fa­mil­iar phrase, lead­er­ship.

“One of the pri­mary rea­sons why one com­mu­nity will do well and not do well is lead­er­ship. One of the first things we look at as a de­vel­oper, if a com­mu­nity has good lead­er­ship, the rest of the process be­comes rou­tine,” Sil­vio said.

What he means is that man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­nesses, to a large ex­tent, all re­quire the same things: land, wa­ter, sewer, elec­tric­ity, gas and high­way and rail ac­cess. As long as a com­mu­nity has that, they can be in the run­ning to land an in­dus­try. New­ton County had all those things, ad­e­quate util­i­ties, ac­cess to In­ter­state 20, ac­cess to the CSX rail­road, land and, thanks to its part­ner­ship with Pat­tillo, build­ings.

Where New­ton County stood out was its united front and ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing, said Randy Car­doza, a 10-year com­mis­sioner of the state depart­ment of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. He dealt with com­mu­ni­ties across the state. He said many were good, but New­ton County was among the state’s elite.

“Yours was the only com­mu­nity I was ever aware of where the mayor and county com­mis­sioner chair­man gave each other their proxy vote, where one could vote for the other for what­ever was re­quired to win the in­dus­try or to stay in the com­pe­ti­tion. That was a very un­usual sit­u­a­tion,” Car­doza said. “Other com­mu­ni­ties have lo­cal gov­ern­ments work­ing well to­gether, but I don’t know of an­other com­mu­nity that had that kind of trust in each other. Prospec­tive cus­tomers could pick up on that real easy.”

In ad­di­tion, Car­doza said the lo­cal ef­forts were aided by in­tense state ef­forts to com­pete for com­pa­nies glob­ally, in­clud­ing the cre­ation of Ge­or­gia eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment offices in Europe, Ja­pan and Korea. Three of Cov­ing­ton’s largest in­dus­tries are SGD Glass, from France, Nis­sh­inbo Au­to­mo­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ing, Ja­pan and SKC Inc., Korea, which ben­e­fit from the nearby Harts­field-Jack­son At­lanta In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

When SKC came to New­ton County in 1996, the com­pany pur­chased 400 acres and an­nounced it would be mak­ing a $1.5 bil­lion in­vest­ment — the largest deal ever an­nounced in Ge­or­gia, Car­doza said. Al­though the re­cent re­ces­sion has cer­tainly pushed those plans back fur­ther than an­tic­i­pated, the deal was a land­mark for Cov­ing­ton.

Sil­vio said he sold 300 of those acres to the com­pany. When it came down to it, the com­pe­ti­tion was down to Cartersville and Cov­ing­ton. This was a sit­u­a­tion where the lead­er­ship, in­fra­struc­ture and trans­porta­tion ben­e­fits got New­ton County to the fi­nal ta­ble, and the oft-pub­li­cized in­cen­tive pack­age made the fi­nal dif­fer­ence. The Korean com­pany an­nounced an ex­pan­sion in 2009.

“When the state gets a prospect, you have to com­pete against other states, and they want to put best their best play­ers in the deal. They want to go with a city that is a proven player,” Sil­vio said. “Cov­ing­ton has proven it­self to be a player.”

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