The year 2013 may be remembered as the year the local economy finally began to bounce back from the Great Recession, with several major employers announcing big expansions. And one of the area’s most outspoken local leaders announced he had his eye on the state government’s top job. Several major criminal cases that started in 2012 also wrapped up this year.
Signs of recovery
The recession officially ended more than four years ago, but the meager growth registered nationally didn’t seem to trickle down to the Dalton area, where unemployment remained well above the national average. But 2013 brought strong signs that the floorcovering industry, which underpins the local economy, is finally rebounding, with some of the biggest players in the business announcing expansion plans that could create thousands of jobs.
Engineered Floors unveiled plans in May to invest $450 million in northwest Georgia during the next five years, including a plant now under construction in Whitfield County, which would create some 2,000 jobs.
In September, Shaw Industries announced a $100 million investment in Whitfield County, including expanding an extrusion plant in Dalton and building 535,000 square feet of new warehouse space just south of the city, that will add 175 jobs.
Mohawk Industries gave the local economy an early Christmas present when it announced early in December an $85 million conversion of plants in Dalton and Rome that will add 420 jobs over the next two years in Dalton and maintain 230 jobs in Rome.
Industry officials gave credit to a growing housing market, which is boosting demand for products.
And just days before the year ended, the Georgia Department of Labor announced that the unemployment rate for Metro Dalton — Whitfield and Murray counties — dropped to 9.4 percent in November, down from 9.9 percent in October and the lowest the rate has been since October 2008.
Faith in government?
Three men, including two Murray County sheriff’s deputies, pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from a 2012 incident involving drugs being planted on the vehicle of a woman who had accused then-magistrate judge Bryant Cochran of sexual harassment.
The sheriff’s office charged the woman on Aug. 14, 2012, with possession of meth after the drugs were discovered during a traffic stop. The man who was driving her home was also charged, but District Attorney Bert Poston dropped those charges less than two weeks later, citing information from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
The officer who made the arrest, former deputy Josh Greeson, and his supervisor, former captain Michael Henderson, both pleaded guilty in federal court to obstruction charges after they admitted they lied during the GBI inquiry into the matter before eventually admitting to investigators that Cochran had given a tip to be on the lookout for the woman’s vehicle. Greeson was sentenced in September to 10 months in prison plus a year on probation. Henderson was sentenced in October to a year and a day in prison, plus a year on probation.
The man who admitted to planting the drugs, Clifford J. Joyce, pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute meth and was sentenced in December to 18 months in prison.
Cochran has been the target of numerous investigations, including an ethics inquiry during which he resigned after admitting he had pre-signed a handful of warrants and a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit that is ongoing. He has not been criminally charged and has denied any wrongdoing.