While many local governments and organizations have taken a hit this year thanks to the recession, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce President Shane Short believes the chamber has done well in 2009 and expects 2010 to be better.
Short spoke to the Jackson County Commission earlier this month about his year-end review of the chamber’s efforts, which include 23 projects open right now, two completed and another 17 closed for the year.
“I think we have a great program. We’ve had a lot of projects come through this past year, despite the economy and I expect 2010 to hopefully be better for us,” he said.
In Jackson County in particular, the chamber works with the industrial development authority and the economic development council to bring new businesses to the county. The economic development council, which serves as the “the primary recruitment arm for Jackson County,” brings members of the chamber, board of commissioners, the county’s three school boards and the mayors of the three biggest municipalities to the table to make decisions and discuss how new businesses will impact different sectors of the county.
Short said one of the chamber’s goals this year and next is to shed its distribution-centered image for one that encourages different kinds of industrial companies to settle to Jackson County. The county has about 5.7 million square feet of industrial space on the market, which Short believes will be good when the economy turns around and businesses start looking for a place to locate.
“For a long time, Jackson County was seen as a place for distribution centers. However, we’ve tried really hard over the last couple of years to change that image and work closer with the state project manager to say that we’re not only a distribution center,” Short said.
“We want manufacturing up here and a lot of it, and not only do we want manufacturing, we want bio-related companies if we can get them up here, and we’re starting to see some of that come through
In that same vein, another objective the chamber worked on this year and will continue into 2010 is advertising Jackson County on a state and national scale. Short said this began with advertising campaigns in Georgia Trend magazine this year.
“We will be doing more of that type of advertising next year. I feel it’s important to stay on the competitive edge. The more we can get our name out there, the better off we’ll be,” he said.
The chamber also is in the process of certifying the county a Work Ready community — an initiative that allows residents to take a test and receive a certificate based on the level of technical expertise.
“More and more of our companies are using that as a means of hiring people, so we’re trying very hard to be certified Work Ready,” he said.
The state originally said Jackson County needed to test and certify 687 people to become a Work Ready community, but then told the chamber that more government officials need to be tested first.
“We are not certified officially even though we’ve tested 799 people. Now they (the state) say we need a few more government workers to get tested. We’re almost there,” he said.
Short said these initiatives have made Jackson County a vibrant, growing community that other counties and municipalities hope to emulate.
“I think we have one of the best structures for economic development anywhere. A lot of communities that I speak with, my colleagues throughout the state are very envious of what we have,” he said.