In his talk before officials such as Cumberland CID director Malaika Rivers and Jim Hudgins of ARCADIS at the Georgian Club, Lee said one of his commitments when he took office was to focus on jobs. So he met with Chamber personnel to discuss reorganizing the way the county was doing economic development.
“The first step is we’re going to have a single point of contact, and that’s going to be Brooks Mathis from the Chamber of Commerce,” Lee said. “He has been outstanding in helping us coordinate our efforts with the state, the cities, the small-business organizations, Georgia Power and everything else that’s available to us to make sure we grow. As a result of just that, we’ve been extraordinarily successful. Last year, Cobb County accounted for one-third of all the metropolitan Atlanta jobs created.”
Lee made no mention of the county’s own economic development director, Michael Hughes.
Lee said such job growth was achieved without the benefit of the economic development plan known as Competitive EDGE, which is set to go into effect in January.
“When implementing that plan with very clear, decisive results that are in our midst, we’ll be even more successful in 2012-13 as we move forward and take advantage of the economy,” he said.
Lee said EDGE would not be funded with county dollars, but rather “privately and with any grants that can be acquired.”
Regarding transportation, Lee said if re-elected, within the first six months of his new administration he would bring together members of the community, transportation experts, and state and federal officials to come up with a plan to alleviate traffic congestion.
He said he didn’t know what that plan may entail but that it could include calling for a county transportation SPLOST.
After the proposed $8.5 billion regional transportation tax’s rejection, the community has to weigh in on any new plan, Lee said.
“What can’t be quantified is did the Transportation Investment Act go down because of mistrust in judgment, the project list, no clear oversight, the uncertainty as to how operating costs would be paid for in the long term?” Lee said. “There’s a lot of different reasons why someone might have voted against it, and the last one being they just didn’t want another tax. We’re going to go out and talk to the community, have open discussions with everybody, try to get as many conversations as we can with the business community and with the residents of Cobb County as to what’s important for them to address in the next five to 10 years.”
That could mean partnering with Cherokee County to address the Interstate 75-575 traffic problem or partnering with Paulding County for other reasons, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about economic development and transportation as if they’re two different things,” Lee said. “I’d like for someone to find for me where we put a new intersection on any highway where economic development didn’t occur. It’s a natural, natural association that as you make infrastructure improvements, economic development will occur. You can’t separate them. If you have an economic development opportunity in a business park and you don’t have the correct transportation to get to it, it will fail.”
As for taxes, Lee said the county has the lowest property tax rate in metro area.
Moreover, “My government that I manage has the fewest number of employees and the smallest operating budget of any other metropolitan area delivering what I believe are the best services most extensively that you can find anywhere,” he said.
Touching on government transparency, Lee said Cobb has received the “Sunny Award” for the third year.
“And that’s not because we’re cheery,” Lee said. “We’re open, we’re transparent, we try our best to provide as much information as we can to the public so that they can watch everything we do … You can be assured that what went on in Gwinnett County in the last two years will not happen in Cobb County.”
While Lee was invited to speak to the group, his opponent in the Aug. 21 runoff, Bill Byrne, was not.
Chamber Chairman Tony Britton said the intention was not to slight Byrne.
“It was an invitation to Tim to come out and do an interim state of the county,” Britton said. “It wasn’t around the campaign. He didn’t discuss anything about the campaign or what he would be proposing to be doing going forward.”
Lee said he welcomed the opportunity to speak at the luncheon.
“Contrary to what some people might believe, I believe a strong relationship between government and the business community is what’s going to make or break the success of a community,” he told the audience.
Byrne told the Journal later in the day that if Lee was suggesting Byrne opposed a good relationship between government and business, Lee was mistaken. Byrne said while he is not a member of the Cobb Chamber, he is a member of the five of the 11 business associations in the county.
“Their viewpoints, their concerns are totally and completely different than the Chamber of Commerce, and they do not believe in the political positions that the Board of Directors and the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce has taken,” Byrne said.
Byrne pointed out the efforts the Chamber made to try to pass the TSPLOST.
Byrne said his economic development program is dramatically different than Lee’s.
“He is going to continue to invest into the Chamber to bring new businesses into Cobb County,” Byrne said. “My focus is to work to expand and improve and support the existing businesses we have in Cobb County, and you do that through these associations, not through the Chamber of Commerce. It’s going to be a huge difference in philosophy and policy beginning Aug. 22.”
Byrne said the difference between the Chamber and business associations is that the associations focus on their members.
“Their leadership is elected, and they work together as a community to outreach to each other, to support each other — you do business with me, I do business with you,” Byrne said. “At the Chamber of Commerce, there is always a continuous effort to secure new membership, but the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce is driven by the policies, philosophies and direction that their board of directors gives to their president — in this case, David Connell — and the membership be damned.
“That’s a huge difference in viewpoints, philosophy and policy, and I’m not going to have anything to do with that.”