Workforce, economic development priorities in 2018
♦ PSD, DAPC and Chamber all about providing assistance in their own way over past year
Local educators and officials are all about making a greater impact on the community over the past year with new initiatives, and got to show what they’ve achieved during the 2018 State of the Community event.
The annual dinner and address from local leaders sponsored by H&R Block, Georgia Power and Family Savings Credit Union was all about growth not just for local governments, but also for organizations helping businesses and industries, and for education as well.
Among all the notable changes in 2018, those happening within the schools seek to have an impact on not just the children who make up the future workforce, but those who have been out of a job and now find the labor market much easier to re-enter.
Here’s how education, business and industry have fared in Polk County in 2018:
Wrap-around services a big focus for PSD
It used to be that schools worried about having enough textbooks and desks for students to use in classrooms across Polk
School District, just like all public schools experience across the nation. Yet times have changed, and educators find themselves in a whole new environment where they have to not just think about a child’s safety within their buildings, but also how they are doing at home as well.
PSD Superintendent Laurie Atkins was joined by College and Career Academy CEO and Assistant Superintendent Katie Thomas both traded off on topics of how the system has been forced to change their focus over the past years, especially in the wake of deadly mass shootings inside of a Parkland, Fla., high school back in February.
Atkins said a security review had been underway that day when the news broke of the deaths of teachers and students alike in Florida, and drove home the need for PSD to do more.
She talked about the several security improvements made at local schools to force visitors into front offices and away from students when they enter a school, the addition of fencing, new door locks and much more to keep students safe. The biggest addition she addressed was the inclusion of the Polk School District Police Department, which provides an officer on each campus with the help of School Resource Officers from the Cedartown and Rockmart Police Departments already in place.
Atkins also talked about ongoing construction projects thanks to the 2017 E-SPLOST extension, allowing the forthcoming completion of the new Agriculture Education facility at Rockmart High School and the longawaited Fine Arts wing at Cedartown High School.
“Hopefully this time next year I’ll be able to show you wonderful pictures of the new facilities,” Atkins said.
Thomas then came up to talk about the Polk School District’s new Graduate Polk program, and how much good it is offering students as they provide a variety of help to families in the community.
She reminded the audience of the success the Polk County College and Career Academy has enjoyed before she dove into the real heart of her presentation however. The 33 career pathways, 20-plus college classes and the top Dual Enrollment program in the state are just some of what she discussed as her role as the Chief Executive of PCCCA.
“That’s not enough,” she said. “We can say those are some of our accolades, and I’m proud of them considering where we started. But that’s not enough.”
In an effort to make sure that no students are left behind – including those sleeping on the floor of friends rooms because they have no place to go – the system has invested in Graduate Polk, where youth can go to get a variety of help within schools themselves.
It includes a food pantry and clothing closet at each high school within their PCCCA wings, spaces for students to receive help in nontraditional learning environments and on different schedules especially for those who dropped out and want to finish their education, and youth and teens going through many mental, emotional or family-related issues impacting their education with the assistance of the program in place with Willowbrooke at Tanner.
“With alternate scheduling available, we’ve had three graduate so far that were on the dropout list previously,” Thomas said. “We’re bringing them back and giving them purpose and hope.”
A free English as a Second Language class being held at Cedartown High School and funded thanks to Gildan have signed up 60 participants after starting just two weeks prior to the Oct. 30 event, Thomas added.
“Let’s start helping now, let’s make a difference,” Thomas challenged the audience.
Economic Development going strong
In her second year at the helm of the Development Authority of Polk County, Missy Kendrick finally got a chance to go before local leaders and talk about all positive growth happening with industry and business.
Two years ago she was just a few weeks into her new role, and in 2017 the schedule didn’t permit her getting to address the community about economic development growth.
So Kendrick was glad to get to share her experiences in her leadership role, and talk about the positives Polk County provides to both existing industries and potential newcomers alike.
She definitely expects new neighbors in the months and years to come.
Kendrick described economic development as a three-legged stool during her Oct. 30 presentation, one that needs the strength of local startups and entrepreneurs, existing industries and new industry to create the right environment for growth.
Polk County has something for all of those legs, whether it be working to provide a good environment for entrepreneurs to start an enterprise, or a guide for locals who are interested in creating a startup.
Existing industries are working on their expansions too, like past announcements from Meggitt or the forthcoming completion of the new Cedarstream headquarters.
“We’ve seen continued evidence of strong pro-business environment,” she said. “In just the past 2 years, 11 industries have invested $85 million into expansions in Polk County, and have created or retained 1,600 jobs.”
New industry partners moving in aren’t just all about manufacturing either.
For instance, the training center for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 926 announced back in June is getting all of the I’s dotted and T’s crossed before it gets well underway in the months to come.
What she also talked about that is just as important is the need for new leadership on the local level to take up challenges and provide Kendrick with advocates in the community as a whole when potential industries come looking at Polk County.
That’s why she said the DAPC worked with the Chamber to re-work Polk’s leadership program and have since seen two classes in 2017 and 2018 go through the program.
Kendrick also said another piece that will help keep the three-legged stool of economic development sturdy for years to come is a renegotiated intergovernmental agreement between the DAPC and local governments, which brings the Polk School District within the agreement again as well.
She said her greatest hope is that in the near future she’ll be able to announce a new industry moving into Cedartown’s SPEC building in the Northside Industrial Park, and get working on a future building in Rockmart.
“I feel very strongly by this time next year, we’ll have a contract on our current SPEC building and will be starting construction on one in Rockmart,” Kendrick said.
She added that with low unemployment and positive growth overall, the economic development outlook is good for Polk County.
However, she did add that business investment slowed down some due to uncertainty on the national stage.
“I do expect that activity will pick back up again after the midterms, and I’m pleased to say working with partners and stakeholders,” she said. “We will continue to bring the world to our front door, and invite them in.”
Chamber seeing own growth in members, programs
Blair Elrod is less than a year into her job as the Polk County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, but got a big compliment from attendees at the State of the Community event: a standing ovation for her efforts since she took over the job.
She was able to report during the Chamber-organized event that membership is growing since January, six new programs have been instituted and new board members will be coming on in 2019.
Among the items she touted was the start of the Chick-fil-A Lunch and Learn series, PolkX, the Downtown Comeback program, H&R Block’s sponsored Halloween Hoopla and the folding of the Rockmart Business Alliance into the Chamber as the Downtown Rockmart Advisory Committee.
Elrod also announced a new discount card program on sale now that will allow local shoppers to get discounts at small businesses during the holiday season, are good for several months after and also enter individuals into giveaways leading up to Christmas, including a $1,000 prize at the end of the season.
More details can be found about that program on the Chamber’s Facebook page or on Polkgeorgia. com, or in the forthcoming edition of the Standard Journal on Nov. 14.