Among the attendees at the Cobb Competitive Economic Development for a Growing Economy’s “Opportunity Dallas” trip last week were Tim Lee, chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners, Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Brooks Mathis, described by Lee as one of the “engineers” who brought the Braves to Cobb County.
Lee said his trip was paid for out of the commissioners’ travel budget; Robert Quigley, spokesman for the county, said a rough estimate for the cost of Lee’s trip is about $750, but the county hasn’t finished all the paperwork.
Mathews was hoping to have Kennesaw pay for his trip, but after the City Council denied his request for $2,500 for the trip at its June 16 meeting, he had to pay his own way.
The group stayed at a Mariott, Lee said, which was chosen by the trip’s organizer.
Mathis said Dallas was chosen as the destination for the fact-finding trip because the city has completed projects the county hopes to undertake in the coming years, such as a new sports venue and a business incubator program.
Mathis said the delegation saw the possibilities for the new $672 million Atlanta Braves stadium while touring Dallas’ football stadium.
“We toured AT&T Stadium, got to learn about the construction process. We got to see all the different types of things that can be done,” Mathis said.
The stadium in Dallas is the home of the Cowboys football team, but Mathis said because the facility was built within the last five years, many of the planning and zoning issues during construction are similar to what Cobb may experience with the Braves stadium, which will be built near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285.
Mathis said he was happy to see businesses around the Dallas stadium thriving.
“We got to learn how the businesses (were) all doing tremendously better than before (the stadium was built). And that was nice to see, to learn about the pulse of the business community around it, how much their tourism has increased. And not just the tourism because they’re making it a destination,” he said.
AT&T Stadium is actually in Arlington, Texas, about 19 miles from downtown Dallas, which Mathis said is similar to Cobb’s situation with the Braves. Cobb officials hope to replicate Arlington’s success here in Georgia, he added.
“The tourism is growing,” Mathis said. “The exposure is growing. So, people know where, in this case, Arlington is. And they’re coming and spending money, and they’re paying for these SPLOST programs, you know, quite significantly. And they’re paying for the services the citizens are getting but they don’t live there.”
The sentiment is shared by Lee, who said the county wants to create “a sense of place” in the Cumberland area to make it more appealing to young adults.
“(Dallas officials) have identified a group of people who are creating ‘sense-of-place’ environments and have an impact on creating a community that’s appealing to college graduates,” he said.
Rather than relying on developers and commissioners, Lee said the chamber of commerce through the EDGE program should try to engage adults in the 25 to 35 age range to determine how communities should be designed.
Lee said the $400 million mixed-use development is a step in the right direction.
“What the Braves are creating … with the mixed-use (development) is exactly what we’re talking about — a sense of place where those people who want to work, live, play … in a walkable community can do it,” he said.
Business incubators coming to Cobb?
Another focus of the trip was to learn how Dallas has implemented special programs to help small businesses get off the ground, which are typically called business incubators.
Governments can offer incentives for large companies to build in their regions in exchange for the promise of a large number of new jobs or increased tax revenue, said Mathis, the executive director of the EDGE program and vice president for economic development for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. The job of a business incubator is to provide incentives for smaller businesses, he said, such as help with business plans, legal services and a physical location in order to help these businesses move past the initial start-up phase.
Business incubators can be very different in the way they are set up, such as how they are funded, what they require from “graduates” and what kind of services they offer, Mathis said, and the delegation was able to see different examples of these programs in action to determine what might work best for Cobb.
“That’s Cobb saying we want to help small businesses, too,” Mathis said. “You can’t give them all these incentives, but we can help reduce, you know, their bottom line by, you know, taking the cost of an attorney away, taking the accounting away, giving them significantly reduced rent space, which comes with all the technology and conference rooms they can use.”
The hope is businesses in the incubators will grow and expand in Cobb, boosting the overall economy, he added.
Lee said the county plans to set up a business incubator in the county — a process that has been in the works for at least a year — but is still attempting to decide what type of incubator would work best.
“We are working towards having this in place as part of our 5-year strategy. It is important to note that we are doing these visits as part of our due diligence to find the type of incubator that will fit best in Cobb,” Lee said.
Mathews said he hopes to bring a business incubator to Kennesaw.
“We’ve been working on it for quite a while, and (we’re) hoping to have something very soon,” he said.
The Kennesaw mayor said he does not have any specifics as to what might work in his city, but said he’s bringing a wealth of information to his staff from the trip.
“We’ve got a lot of good ideas … and many different options, and we’re just going to have to narrow them down and figure out which one we think is going to be right,” he said.
The trip was an effort of the EDGE program, an initiative launched in 2013 by the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce tasked with creating 7,500 new jobs, increasing payroll earnings in the county by $420 million and $7,000 per person, and reducing unemployment to 5.5 percent by the end of its first five-year term.
As of Aug. 6, the program has created more than 10,000 new jobs and brought more than $2 billion in investments to the county since its inception, according to Mathis.
The program has successfully raised $2 million of its proposed $4 million budget for its five-year mission, he added.
FACT-FINDING TRIP ATTENDEES
♦ Jason Anavitarte, Kaiser Permanente
♦ Chris Britton, Brasfield & Gorrie
♦ Otis Brumby III, Marietta Daily Journal
♦ Gary Bottoms, The Bottoms Group
♦ David Connell, CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce
♦ Brantley Day, Cumberland CID
♦ Brian Johnstone, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
♦ Richard Franza, Kennesaw State University
♦ Heath Garrett, COMM 360
♦ Mark Goddard, Cobb EMC
♦ Slade Gulledge, Cobb Chamber of Commerce
♦ Todd Helms, Genuine Parts
♦ Dale Kaetzel, Six Flags Over Georgia
♦ Steve LaMontagne, Moore Colson
♦ Tim Lee, Cobb Board of Commissioners
♦ Tad Leithead, Cumberland CID
♦ Jason Lewis, Brasfield & Gorrie
♦ John Loud, LOUD Security Systems
♦ Sharon Mason, Cobb Chamber of Commerce
♦ Ben Mathis, Freeman Mathis & Gary
♦ Brooks Mathis, Cobb Chamber of Commerce
♦ Mark Mathews, Mayor of Kennesaw
♦ Kim Menefee, WellStar
♦ Michael Paris, Council for Quality Growth
♦ Mike Plant, Atlanta Braves
♦ Rachel Rogers, Cobb Travel and Tourism
♦ Amy Selby, Cobb Chamber of Commerce
♦ Mary Lou Stephens, Town Center Area CID
♦ Dan Styf, Piedmont WellStar HealthPlans
♦ Steve Tanner, Arylessence
♦ Molly Taylor, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
♦ Greg Teague, CROY Engineering
♦ Derrick Vincent, Jacob Engineering
♦ Bob Weatherford, JAT Consulting and Republican nominee for the District 1 seat on the Cobb Board of Commissioners