With more than 2,500 member firms, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce plays a leading role in the Cobb business community. Its activities range from offering programs to develop business leaders to advocating for legislation that helps area businesses.
Below is a Q&A with David Connell, president and CEO of the Chamber, about the Chamber’s considerable achievements in 2011 and its ambitious plans for 2012.
Connell: Last year, under the leadership of chairman Rob Garcia, our economic development team worked with our partners — cities, the county, the state, development authorities and utilities — to attract 26 business relocations and expansions. These projects, which include The Home Depot’s new customer support center in Kennesaw, will create 3,093 jobs and $248 million in new investments in the county.
Working with numerous community partners, we also launched Cobb’s Competitive Edge, which will create and implement an economic development plan that will generate high-wage job growth; strengthen our quality of life as well as our educational assets and infrastructure; and aggressively market our county to the world. We contracted with Market Street Services, one of the leading economic development consultants, to oversee the process, and the plan should be ready for implementation by early February.
We also added more than 500 new members, which means that 2,500 firms now belong to the Cobb Chamber, making it one of the largest chambers in the Southeast. And, we launched a pilot program with Walgreen’s that offers employees of member firms significant savings on prescription drugs.
What are your priorities for 2012?
Connell: Our top priority will be to begin implementing the recommended strategies outlined in the upcoming Competitive EDGE Economic Development Strategic Plan. With that plan, we will strengthen both our business retention and our recruitment efforts.
We will also offer new leadership development opportunities to our members that will build on historically strong programs like Leadership Cobb, Cobb Youth Leadership and Honorary Commanders. For example, to start off the year, we are bringing radio host Dave Ramsey’s one-day course on entrepreneurship to our members, and we are in conversations with several other local and national leadership development experts to create programs for our members and their teams.
Furthermore, we will look to continue to grow our membership with another membership drive.
Another session of the Georgia General Assembly began this month. What’s on your legislative agenda this year?
Connell: Our end goal is to support legislation that creates high-quality jobs at all skill levels in Cobb, the metro Atlanta region and throughout the state of Georgia.
As for some of the specifics, we will advocate for legislation that would allow communities in Georgia to bring before voters a referendum for a fractional (meaning less than a penny) special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST). As Cobb matures, we feel our need for a full penny for both the Education and Transportation SPLOSTs is diminishing. We will also advocate for legislation that would allow a portion of SPLOST funds to be spent on maintenance and operations of existing capital.
The Chamber also supports the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Each year, $935 million in cargo value moves from Cobb through the port. Its expansion is vital to the future growth of our county, our region and our state. We also support the creation of the Georgia Venture Capital Program, which would be a $180 million venture capital fund to attract high-growth companies to the state.
Some of our other many legislative initiatives include advocating for the July passage by voters of a 1-cent sales tax to fund a wide variety of transportation projects proposed as part of the Transportation Investment Act and supporting the continued tax-exempt status of non-profit community hospitals.
If a business is interested in joining the Chamber or exploring the various events and programs that you offer, what should it do?
Connell: Our website details all the aspects our organization. If they are interested in exploring membership, they can fill out a membership inquiry. To schedule an appointment with the Membership Sales Department, they should call Jeremy Cronemeyer at (770) 859-2337.