January 11, 2013

Werner Braun: A bright future ahead

— With the new year here, Dalton is positioned to become the “winner” that it always has been.

So says the city’s mayor, and I couldn’t agree more.

While I and countless others have always considered this to be a remarkable town of innovation and industry, we’ve certainly had our share of setbacks since the recession of the past decade, and it’s taken quite a bit of strong will and determination to climb out of a pretty deep hole.

But that’s exactly what we seem to be doing.

Mayor David Pennington spoke to the Carpet Capital Rotary Club this week outlining his plans for the coming year, and I’ll have to say that I’m very impressed.

He began by pointing out some ways in which the cards for economic growth and development may have seemed to have been stacked against us in recent years.

For starters, we live in a state that ranks among the top three in terms of having the highest poverty rates in the United States while ranking in the bottom three states in terms of high school graduation rates.

The statistics themselves look pretty grim. Only New Mexico and Nevada are below us in terms of graduating students from high school. Our rate is only 67 percent overall, while neighboring Tennessee, just 20 miles or so up the road, averages an 86 percent high school graduation rate. And the Tennessee legislature puts even less money into public education than Georgia does!

We are the third “poorest” state in the nation, despite the fact that we have many vibrant large cities and plentiful natural resources.

Tennessee, our nearest neighbor, doesn’t have a state income tax, making it a more attractive locale, in some ways, for new businesses and industries to set up shop.

So why would anyone want to locate their new business here?

According to Mayor Pennington, a number of changes have been made over the past five years that have created a much more competitive business environment than we had before and which bode well for a brighter future ahead.

Five years ago, he explained, Dalton had the second highest property tax rate in Georgia. But over the past five years, by cutting property taxes by a third and Downtown Dalton Development Authority taxes by about two-thirds, our tax rate is probably the lowest of any city our size.

This has made Dalton a more competitive place for new industries and businesses to locate, he said.

Being sought out as an economically desirable location to establish new business ventures has been one of the mayor’s three major goals. And we can see through the recent construction of several major retail stores — such as Kohl’s, Petco, and Academy Sports and Outdoors — that we are well on our way to meeting that goal.

Another major goal of the mayor’s has been to transform Dalton into a place that educated young people will choose to call home.

“Most well-educated young people want a vibrant downtown,” he said. “We want to become a more attractive place for young people and their future families.”

Already, he said, that is coming to pass. The remodeling of the freight depot off Hamilton Street has had a big impact on revitalizing the downtown, as has bringing certain organizations, such as the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and the Carpet and Rug Institute, to “main street,” so to speak.

A third major goal for the mayor is “to do whatever we can to support the growth of our college.” Dalton State College’s recent foray into athletics will be a big boon to this town, the mayor believes, and he is pleased that the trade center will be the official home court for the Roadrunners’ basketball team.

Lakeshore Park’s soccer field is being refurbished to serve as the Roadrunners’ home field.

“What we like about that is that we are already seeing tremendous improvements to that neighborhood as a result of the remodeling of the Lakeshore tennis courts and the creation of the community garden,” he said. “People who live in that area have taken it upon themselves to improve their homes as part of a ‘neighborhood project.’”

“Having college athletics will give us a huge shot in the arm,” the mayor told us, noting that sports events will bring in spectators from other towns who will shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants and sleep in our hotels, increasing revenues for all sorts of area businesses.

“These are the three most important things we’re doing right now,” he said. “Everything we do revolves around creating a dynamic business environment, making our community more attractive to young folks and promoting the growth of our college.”

Well said, Mayor Pennington.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.