The executive director of the new Paulding County Economic Development Inc. wants to capitalize on the airport, hospital development and the county’s educated, skilled workforce to attract job-creating industries.
The Paulding County Economic Development Inc. board of directors concluded a national search for an executive director in February by hiring Jamie Gilbert, who has worked in neighboring Douglasville the past two years as executive director of the city’s Development Authority. He is taking the reins of Paulding’s economic development efforts Wednesday.
“The reason I wanted to come to Paulding County is because I see unlimited opportunity,” Gilbert said. “My major goal is to start making the transition from a ‘bedroom community’ where more than 75 percent of the workforce commutes outside the county to work. To be a healthy, vibrant community, we need jobs here.”
He is enthusiastic about the county’s potential to attract employers, saying everything is in place. Gilbert cited the strengths of the Paulding Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Building and Airport authorities, the vision and cooperation of county and city governments, investments in quality of life, attractive tax rates and affordable cost of living.
Aerospace and aviation companies should be interested in locating near the airport, which is close to two of the state’s three largest aviation facilities: Lockheed-Martin in Marietta and Engineered Fabric Corp. in Rockmart, Gilbert said. Paulding “has a tremendous opportunity to build aviation industry,” he added.
The airport is in place and can be marketed now, he said, and the hospital that WellStar will open at the intersection of U.S. 278 and Bill Carruth Parkway in 2014 could be the hub for healthcare providers he will try to bring to what is being called a “wellness corridor.”
In addition to aviation and medical/life science employers, Gilbert plans to target high-end manufacturing and value-added production companies, as well as back-office operations such as information technology and customer service providers.
“Paulding County has a tremendously skilled workforce,” he said. In the labor market that includes Paulding, Cobb, Douglas, Carroll, Haralson and Bartow counties, he said Paulding ranks second in high school graduation and third highest in college degrees.
And Paulding’s certification as a Work Ready Community “shows employers we have workers with defined skill sets for such industries as metal fabrication, plastics, equipment and machinery. We’re capable of supporting those types of industries here.”
Those and other industries should also be interested in the county’s investment in schools, recreation and other quality-of-life offerings that appeal to workers’ families. Paulding has also invested in infrastructure, he said. Water and sewer tap fees “aren’t burdensome,” and “the tax millage rate is one of the lowest around metro Atlanta.”
Business prospects look for “location, land and labor, and labor is probably the number-one factor a company looks for and a major reason” Paulding’s recruitment efforts should be successful.
Gilbert has a proven track record in job-creation. In his two years in Douglasville, its Development Authority backfilled vacant properties comprising about 700,000 square feet of space, creating “more than 300 jobs in one of the worst economies we’ve ever seen.” The efforts brought more than $75 million in capital investment to Douglasville through recruitment and business expansion involving Georgia Highlands College, Kaiser Permanente, Medline Industries, Mitchell’s Specialized Fabrication, Ross Group and others.
A native of Baltimore, Md., Gilbert earned a political science degree at University of Maryland Baltimore County and a master’s degree in city and regional planning at Clemson University. Following graduation, he said he “cut his teeth” as economic development coordinator at the Cecil County, Md., Office of Economic Development and then became business development representative for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development. “We did a lot of terrific things in Baltimore County to help existing industries expand and grow,” he said.
Next he became corporate locations manager for the Greater Baltimore Alliance regional economic development organization that included five counties and the city of Baltimore. He worked a year at the Greenwood Partnership Alliance in South Carolina for a year before becoming economic development director for the Abbeville (S.C.) County Development Board.
In his five years in Abbeville, the county became one of the state’s leaders for new and expanding businesses on a per-capita basis. From 2001-2004, Abbeville had 56 new and expanding businesses that created 651 new jobs and more than $55 million in capital investment.
Gilbert returned to Greenwood County as director of business development. No new companies had located in Greenwood the previous seven years, but in the first two years there Gilbert recruited five new businesses, including three international companies. Southern Business Development magazine named Greenwood the no. 3 micro-market in the Southeast. New and expanding Greenwood businesses created more than 1,200 new jobs and brought investment of more than $290 million.
Gilbert then moved to the private side of economic development, helping communities with economic development strategic plans as deputy director of planning and economic development with Genesis Consulting Group in Columbia. He said he missed the day-to-day work of economic development and accepted the job in Douglasville.
His father worked in economic development for many years, and since about age 8 Gilbert “watched how economic development is done from very good people. Even while I was in college, economic development was something I wanted to do.” His father became president of a land development company that developed industrial parks and commercial sites in Maryland “and I got to see the private side of development as well.”
In his 20 years working with public and private economic development, Gilbert’s efforts have produced more than 13,000 new and retained jobs and created more than $600 million in capital investment.
Gilbert’s areas of expertise include corporate site selection, business attraction and retention, strategic planning, site development, market research, property evaluation, zoning, permitting, incentives, financing and workforce development. He is also knowledgeable about best economic development and planning practices.
His immediate plans for Paulding County are to develop a strategic plan and marketing strategy for economic development, create a website, list all available local sites and buildings with major Georgia development entities, network with state and national location consultants and real estate firms, market to target industries at trade shows, organize marketing missions and produce a local economic development day.
He will be based in the former Board of Commissioners offices in the Regions Bank building across from the former Courthouse, and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The father of Emily, 16, and Anna, 10, and husband of Shannon Gilbert, a special education teacher at Arbor Station Elementary in Douglas County, Gilbert says he’s excited about Paulding’s potential.
“It’s not often you find a community with so many things in place to build an industrial base,” he said.