June 1, 2014

Region earns ‘manufacturing community’ designation

Northwest Georgia, including Whitfield and Murray counties, has been chosen as one of 12 regions nationwide that could get federal funds to sustain and expand manufacturing.

Northwest Georgia is a finalist in the federal government’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The partnership is aimed at creating a “resurgence” in manufacturing across the country.

Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson said the designation will allow the Northwest Georgia region to qualify for up to $75 million to $100 million in federal funds to develop and expand its industrial base.

“This is a potential game-changer,” Anderson said.

The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission and Georgia Tech are developing a plan that would help take the area forward, focusing first on sustaining the floorcovering industry and then on growing other types of manufacturing.

“As the floorcovering industry has reinvented itself over the last five years, it has adopted new technologies and new ways of doing business,” Anderson said.

But the industry has struggled to find workers with the skills needed to operate and maintain these new technologies.

The regional commission and Georgia Tech are bringing together business, local governments, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, Dalton State College and others to develop a plan to make sure that local workers acquire those skills.

“The initial focus would be on the local floorcovering industry,” said Lloyd Frasier, executive director of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission in the press release. “But it expands beyond that to support a culture of advanced manufacturing in the region.”  

Anderson said many of the skills need by the floorcovering industry can be used in other types of high-tech manufacturing and having a highly skilled workforce could help the region attract other types of industry.

Anderson says he believes the plan should be ready to present to the federal government for possible funding by late summer.

The other communities earning the designation are:

• Southwest Alabama led by the University of South Alabama

• Southern California led by the University of Southern California Center for Economic Development

• The Chicago metro region led by the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development

• South Kansas led by Wichita State University

• Greater Portland region in Maine led by the Greater Portland Council of Governments

• Southeastern Michigan led by the Wayne County Economic Development Growth Engine

• The New York Finger Lakes region led by the city of Rochester

• Southwestern Ohio Aerospace Region led by the city of Cincinnati

• The Tennessee Valley led by the University of Tennessee

• The Washington Puget Sound region led by the Puget Sound Regional Council

• The Milwaukee 7 Region led by the Redevelopment Authority of the city of Milwaukee

Priority consideration in federal grant competition and assistance totaling $1.3 billion and involving 11 federal agencies may be available to the designated manufacturing communities. Each such community will also receive the expertise of a dedicated federal liaison at each of the 11 federal agencies who will help the communities’ leadership navigate available federal resources. The participating federal agencies are the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute for Standards and Technology, Manufacturing Extension Program, Department of Defense, Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In order to earn the designation, communities had to demonstrate the significance of manufacturing already present in their communities and develop strategies to make investments in six areas: Workforce and training, advanced research, infrastructure and site development, supply chain support, trade and international investment and operational improvement and capital access.

“This White House designation of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission will go a long way in helping to create additional good paying, sustainable jobs in Georgia’s advanced manufacturing,” said Quinton Robinson, USDA state director for rural development.

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