June 7, 2014

Manufacturing program would help region

The Northwest Georgia area, including Whitfield and Murray counties, got a major piece of good news recently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture named this region one of just 12 finalists nationwide in the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program, making it one of just three finalists in the entire Southeastern U.S. and the only one in Georgia. The program aims to create a “resurgence” of manufacturing across the United States by building on programs and ideas developed in areas that already have a strong manufacturing economy.

Brian Anderson, president of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, described the designation as a “potential game-changer.”

First, competition for the designation was fierce, with dozens of communities across the country vying for the honor. The fact that Northwest Georgia emerged as one of the finalists is a testament to the strength of manufacturing in this region and to the desire of political and business leaders to keep it strong. That should be a big selling point when trying to attract new business to the area.

Second, the designation means the region is eligible for up to $100 million in federal money to fund plans to strengthen and expand manufacturing in this region.

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. The floorcovering industry isn’t the same one our fathers and grandfathers worked in. It uses high-tech machinery and advanced processes to make its products. 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.

That’s good news. And the better news is that many of the skills needed by the floorcovering industry can be used in other types of high-tech manufacturing. Having a highly skilled workforce could help the region attract other types of industry, and this new designation can help Northwest Georgia create that skilled workforce.

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