Mathis, 30, will be the interim executive director pending a final decision by the new entity’s board of directors, though he is expected to hold the post indefinitely. The push to start Edge began at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, where Mathis is now vice president of economic development, and the Chamber will also house the Edge staff.
“The vision of our leaders has been amazing over the years, and we want to continue that,” said Kim Menefee, a WellStar executive who is co-chairing the Edge implementation committee. “When we look at what other cities and counties are doing, this initiative becomes even more important, because we want to see Cobb continue to grow and prosper.”
Menefee and Dan Styf, of Kaiser Permanente, the other implementation co-chair, this week gave Journal editors an update on the status of the new organization that aims to grow businesses and jobs, as well as improve the overall quality of life in the county.
Edge organizers describe it as Cobb’s first “strategic blueprint for comprehensive community and economic development.” Edge will have a budget of $4 million over five years, funded mostly by businesses, with the possibility of some public dollars or in-kind donations as well.
Organizers are touting what they call Edge’s “Seven Seeds for Success,” which are areas where efforts will be concentrated. Those are: entrepreneurship and small business; transportation and traffic; community identities; business expansion and retention; redevelopment; talent development and recruiting; and marketing Cobb County.
The group has set seven goals to be met by 2018, including creating 7,500 new jobs; increasing payroll earnings and income by $420 million and $7,000 per capita; slashing unemployment to 5.5 percent; and increasing the quality of life as measured by Kennesaw State University’s survey.
Education goals are to increase the public school graduation rate by 4 percent and to increase the number of college-bound students by 7 percent.
Edge staff will also increase the number of visits made to existing businesses from 30 to 100 annually.
Leaders have begun asking large companies for donations, or investments, in Edge, and have four pledges for $630,000 over the five years.
WellStar and Kaiser Permanente have each pledged $275,000 over the five years, and are each giving $75,000 in start-up costs, Menefee and Styf said.
Reed Benson, who is leading the fund-raising, declined to name others who have pledged dollars to the effort.
Benson said public entities — excluding school districts — will be asked for help, too. Economic-development efforts in counties like Gwinnett have come under fire for using school tax money.
“If schools had huge budgets and surpluses, we’d probably be asking them,” Benson said. “I’m a fund-raiser. I like to go where the dollars are. But it’s hard if they’re laying off teachers to ask them to invest in something like this.”
Still, Menefee said public input is critical to the effort.
“What’s made these successful (elsewhere) is not only giving time and resources, but having that financial investment,” she said. “It’s important we all have skin in the game.”
Edge has 501(c)3 tax status for tracking how all public dollars are spent. Public money will only be spent for marketing, and none for operations, the organizers said.
They also vowed that public dollars will be audited and detailed in annual reports, and that the Edge will be “nonpolitical.”
Edge will be overseen by a Board of Directors, and a separate Board of Advisors. Members of both will be selected in part based on financial contribution to Edge. The board of directors will likely meet monthly, though whether those meetings are open to the public remains to be seen.
Edge will officially launch next month, though a more public kickoff is slated for around March, when at least half the money is raised.
Styf said economic development is not just about bringing new companies to Cobb, but improving the county overall, which in turn enhances development.
“In our strategy process, we realized we needed to have a concerted effort to make investments on our community’s behalf,” Styf said. “That’s a big reason why we think this scale of effort is needed.”
The effort provides work for some existing Chamber of Commerce employees. Mathis, as Edge executive director, will oversee day-to-day operations and report to the board of directors. He is a Rome native who holds a marketing degree from Shorter College. He joined the Chamber about two years ago.
Nelson Geter, who works part-time at the Chamber as business retention manager, will become a full-time Edge employee, though he will also continue to coordinate the Cobb Development Authority. His job will include making the 100 visits to businesses each year, to listen to their needs.
Chamber employees Hannah Orr (education and workforce), Amanda Blanton (research), and Samantha Ovsak (marketing) will continue their work, but as Edge employees, Mathis said.
A new employee, Trent Williamson, will become Edge’s business recruitment manager in January. He is a Florida native who currently works in e-commerce for an Atlanta firm, Mathis said.
Two other Edge jobs — entrepreneurship director and director of Coalition for a Clear Commute in Cobb — are not yet filled, Mathis said.
“Cobb sells itself,” Mathis said. “It’s a wonderful community.”