March 6, 2014

Werner Braun: Downtown Dalton is thriving again

— When I think about the past few years in Dalton, I’m struck by how much has changed both for the community and for me as well.

Several years ago, former mayor David Pennington began a push to have the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce move downtown, in part to include us in the tremendous revitalization process that was taking place there.

In the summer of 2012, we did just that, and the experience of being part of a vibrant downtown scene has been absolutely wonderful for me and my staff.

What I notice as I walk along Hamilton Street and its side streets is a place where entrepreneurs have opened successful restaurants and small businesses, where industry leaders and community members gather for business lunches and shopping outings.

It wasn’t always that way.

Just a few short years ago, the downtown was not thriving. Despite a low unemployment rate of around 3 percent many years ago, the economic downturn of the past decade hit us pretty hard. As we all know, when one industry suffers it affects the entire community. In 2006, the city, county and private sector came together and decided we needed a joint economic program to facilitate development throughout the county.

The Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority, in collaboration with the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, has contributed to the economic development improvements today. The development authority is, in a sense, the economic development marketing arm for the community, and has been keenly involved in positioning the very real message that Dalton is “open for business.”

According to Andrew Carnes, vice president for economic development for the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, the primary mission of his department is to assist in industry growth and expansion by bolstering existing industries and recruiting new ones in Whitfield County. With new recruitment comes an increased focus on such industries as automotive, plastics, food processing, chemical and advanced manufacturing.

The development authority had a hand in landing a little more than 2,000 jobs and $511 million of capital investment during the past 12 months.

Many expansions have taken place in our area. For example, Engineered Floors is adding 1,200 jobs and $350 million in capital investment within Whitfield County.

IVC US is building a second plant in the county, investing $80 million and creating 200 new jobs.

Mohawk Industries is rehabbing a manufacturing facility in the city and has added 400 new jobs with a $55 million capital investment.

Shaw Industries has expanded in the city of Dalton and on the south end of Whitfield County, adding 95 jobs, and made a capital investment of $85 million.

And the list goes on and on. The current projects seriously looking at Greater Dalton include two-thirds non-floorcovering.

Most of us are aware that more than 60 percent of all carpet produced in this country is made within a 30-45 mile radius of Dalton. But that’s not all that’s being produced around here anymore.

We have become, and are fast becoming, an even more attractive place to establish all types of businesses and industries, not just carpet. You just have to take a walk downtown to see how vital we have become.

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