Calhoun/Gordon County: From Rugs To Riches

Downtown redevelopment and bustling business in carpet

The real estate mantra, location, location, location, has been serving Gordon County’s leaders well as they tout the benefits of their area to businesses looking to relocate or expand.

Straddling I-75, an hour north of Atlanta and an hour south of Chattanooga, Gordon is the only county along I-75 that isn’t part of a metropolitan statistical area. With its rich history, as home to the Cherokee Indian capital, New Echota, and more recently as a carpet-manufacturing powerhouse, Gordon County is looking to the future with eyes open to diverse opportunities, which are coming with more frequency since the county hit what leaders call the “magic number” of 50,000 residents.

“We are at a crossroads,” says Gordon County Commissioner Phil Garner. “With the interstate, we know growth’s coming, but we have time to plan.”

Planning has led officials to actively seek out industry other than textiles to add to the mix, while rewarding established enterprises for expanding within the county. “We want to be sure existing industry gets the same opportunities as new companies, that they get treated better than new companies, when they expand,” says Gordon County Chamber of Commerce President and Development Authority Director Jimmy Phillips.

Because he wears both hats, Phillips is in position to see that new and existing businesses are well treated. He sees the chamber as “taking care of business that’s already here,” while the development authority’s job is “recruiting new business.”

The thinking seems to be paying off for Gordon County. LG Chemical Industrial Materials (LG CIM), part of South Korea’s third-largest company, LG Chem, Ltd., recently built a $40 million facility in the King Industrial Park along the west side of I-75 where it manufactures solid-surface countertops. The company has been in operation since 2005, Phillips says. It currently employs 70-75 and holds the option on an additional 50 acres within the park for expansion.

“I could sell all the property right now,” Phillips says, noting recent activity at the 250-acre industrial park. He credits the location, visible from I-75, for the site’s popularity.

The announcement of a new exit off I-75 at Union Grove Road, which would service King Industrial Park, should further ramp up enthusiasm for the site.



A Magnet For Industry


The industrial park isn’t the only hot spot for industry. Faus Group, Inc., headquartered in Spain, purchased the former Outboard Marine Corp. facility adjacent to I-75 in 2005, as a manufacturing and distribution center for laminate flooring. The company employs 250 people in a 400,000-square-foot building on 78 acres. A planned second phase will bring the total number of employees to 360 by 2008.

Companies headquartered in countries including India, France, Japan, Ireland and Italy have found Gordon County a business-friendly location for manufacturing and distribution, making the area a virtual United Nations.

County Commission Chairman Alvin Long cites the people of Gordon County as one of the main reasons to do business there. “It’s a diverse community, very open to new people, with a good workforce. Coosa Valley Technical College does training for new industry.”

Companies with a long presence in the area find the people and location desirable reasons to stay and even expand. Floor covering giants Shaw, Mohawk and Manning-ton all have expanded their facilities recently, Phillips says. In addition, other carpet companies have learned what these locals have known for years and opened distribution centers in Gordon County.

Nourison Rugs, with headquarters in New Jersey, built a 300,000-square-foot distribution center on 40 acres in the south part of Calhoun on U.S. Highway 41. And Kane Carpets, headquartered in Brooklyn, bought a 75,000-square-foot building for a distribution center, and plans to double its operation.

Distribution centers and other businesses that don’t rely heavily on natural resources are ideal, say several officials looking at ways to grow the tax base while keeping an eye on the environment.

Garner would like to see the development of greenspace along the county’s three rivers. “We would not take anybody’s land for this, but there are tax breaks available just to let people ride on a bike path.”

Preserving historic sites is another way to go green. Preservation “will bring more tourists, and it’s clean industry,” Garner says. He envisions trails linking historic sites, and the development of a tourism center, perhaps in downtown Calhoun, the county seat, to lead visitors in the right direction.

The county’s rich history draws tourists to sites including New Echota, the last eastern capital of the Cherokee nation and site of the development of the first written language for Native Americans. Resaca Civil War Battlefield, which hosts an annual re-enactment of the May 1864 battle that saw the loss of more than 11,000 lives, also is popular.

Pine Hall Brick, the nation’s largest manufacturer of brick pavers, located in Gordon County six years ago. The move has paid off so well that the firm is expanding its facilities for the second time. Pine Hall is a North Carolina-based, family-owned company. Its Fairmount facility (located in the eastern part of Gordon County) is the first outside its home state.

“The thing you have to have to make brick is raw material,” says Vernon Moore, vice president of operations for Pine Hall Brick. The 900-acre site the company purchased along Highway 53 has enough raw material for more than 100 years of brick making, he adds.

The company purchased the property in 2001 and began production in the automated facility in 2003 with one kiln. Pine Hall doubled the size of the plant in 2005 and currently produces 140 million bricks (the ones with holes in them) and brick pavers (the solid ones) each year.

“I’ve been impressed with the responsibility they’ve taken,” says Fairmount resident and Gordon County native Patti Champion-Garner. A lot of people were upset at first at the idea of a brick manufacturing plant and the noise and pollution they thought the company would produce. “But I haven’t noticed either,” she says.

And with good reason. The nearly spotless plant sits off the highway shielded by trees. The facility itself hides the mining operation from view, and, as Moore points out, the company has gone out of its way to be a good neighbor. “We are what I consider fairly good stewards of the land. We use every bit we dig to make brick. We aren’t a giant mining company going to dig a giant hole in the ground. We wouldn’t be recognized as a mine site by most people.”

The plant operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with robots doing the manual work to produce 60,000 bricks per hour. The company employs 85 people. When the new facility opens along the railroad track in Fairmount, an estimated 30 new jobs will be added.



Downtown Developments


Evidence of Pine Hall Brick’s determination to be a good neighbor extends beyond the plant to the square in downtown Fairmount, where new brick pavilions shelter picnic tables and benches for use by the town’s growing population. A new 252-home subdivision under development will nearly double the population, says Mayor Steven L. Brannen.

The town is seeing a good bit of growth and improvement in services as well as population, says Brannen, a Fairmount native and former police chief. The city just received a streetscape grant to fund the engineering and planning stages of improvements to the city center. “We’ve applied for a transportation grant to enhance sidewalks through downtown. They were put down in the 1950s,” he says.

“A landowner has made his land available for economic development in Fairmount that will be marketed as a mega-site,” Brannen adds. The site is accessible to city infrastructure and is currently for sale. “We’re beating the bushes looking for industry for the site.”

Over in Calhoun, west of I-75, some of downtown’s sidewalks have been repaved – with brick pavers. The work will continue on other streets through a second streetscape grant.

Officials are considering other improvements, such as a bypass. Highway 41 is the main route through town. A bypass would eliminate truck traffic on that heavily traveled highway and allow downtown to cater more to tourists and locals who come to the area for dining, shopping or entertainment.

Wall Street Trading (Wall Street is the name of Hwy. 41 through town) bustles at lunchtime with antiques shoppers, diners and bridge players. The store appears from the front to be an ordinary antiques store, but situated along its right side are a dozen or so tables, several of them filled with bridge players, who shuffle the cards between bites of strawberry salad and sips of tea. The salad, filled with fresh greens, strawberries and chicken, indicates that Wall Street Trading’s management spends as much time on the food as on the antiques.

Just around the corner is an entirely different step back in time. Haney Jewelry Co. has been located in downtown Calhoun since 1945. “Mom started the business when Dad was on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean in World War II,” says owner Tim Haney. The store, which looks as though little has changed since Mrs. Haney’s time, prides itself on customer service and building loyalty by offering extras not found elsewhere.

Haney’s wife, Sue, asks a customer who was having some pieces engraved, “Would you like to see these before I wrap them?”

“No, I trust you,” the customer says, handing over her credit card to pay for the order.

Those words aren’t often heard in big-city stores, which makes the Haneys smile. “We have a horror of becoming Metro Atlanta,” he says.

The construction and renovation going on downtown seem designed to maintain the small-town feel. The Gem Theatre, a 1930s movie house, is currently being restored. The Harris Arts Center has become a regional draw offering visual art, plays and the Roland Hayes Museum (see story, page 58).

The city also is working to meet anticipated growth with infrastructure upgrades, says Mayor Jimmy Palmer. Calhoun provides water and sewer to some of the county, which isn’t in the utility business, as well as to its own residents. “I’m proud of our community, the people I work with,” Palmer says. “We are well positioned for the future.”

Infrastructure upgrades, along with recent zoning and planning changes, have boosted business at Flipper McDaniel & Associates, says the real estate agency’s owner, Flipper McDaniel. The area’s biggest asset, he says, is the fact that I-75 runs right through the county.

Those moving into the area include retirees, who want to be close to Atlanta, but want a small-town feel, says Nathan Thornton, a realtor with Flipper McDaniel. One of his recent deals brought Longhorn Steaks to Calhoun. Now that the county has reached 50,000 people, larger companies, including restaurants and retail, are looking at it favorably.

Thornton envisions new restaurants and retail business fueling the commercial building trade, which in turn boosts the economy and makes life better for all of Gordon County.



Calhoun/Gordon County At-A-Glance



Population


Gordon County, 51,500; Calhoun, 13,570; Resaca, 864; Fairmount, 785; Plainville, 270; Ranger, 91



Unemployment


(May 2007)


Gordon County, 4.9 percent; Georgia, 4.1 percent



Top Employers


Mohawk Industries, 3,000; Shaw Industries, 1,750;

Gordon Hospital, 600; Mannington, 592;

Beaulieu Group, 386



Sources


Selig Center, U.S. Census Bureau, Gordon County Commission, Georgia Dept. of Labor

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