Paulding County: Air And Land
A new airport and plans for conservation
Flight Plans: Airport Department and IBA Executive Director Blake Swafford at the new Paulding County airport site
One of the reddest counties in a red state is changing its color. Not to blue, that would be too abrupt a shift, but to green – and doing it with the help of a new airport, something that hasn’t been considered environmentally friendly in the past.
Paulding County, in northwest Metro Atlanta, is literally and figuratively breaking new ground, banking its future on Very Light Jets and an airport surrounded by greenspace.
Traveling west on Highway 278, seven miles past Dallas, Paulding’s county seat, the temporary gravel road leading to the new airport sneaks up on you. After leaving Dallas, the scenery doesn’t change – trees line both sides of the highway until that small cut and a couple of signs announce Paulding County Regional Airport. The mile-long gravel drive leads through beautiful, rolling, forested hills, to the airport site – 300 acres at 1,400 feet above sea level – with views over the trees stretching as far as midtown Atlanta.
Though the airport is far from complete (the runway is set to open in October), plans for an entire community with the airport at its center won the 2007 Excellence in Economic Development Award from the U.S. Economic Development Administra-tion, a division of the Commerce Department.
“We look at our airport like other counties look at interstates,” Paulding County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jerry Shearin says, “because we don’t have an interstate.”
County officials may view the airport as their key to development, but the Paulding County Airport Depart-ment and the Industrial Building Authority are determined to avoid the one thing interstate development guarantees: sprawl.
“We’re going to strictly control development,” Shearin says. “We’ve let the marketplace control in the past, and now we’re planning this.”
All this talk of development doesn’t sound environmentally conscious, but the 7,000 acres, designated a greenspace, surrounding the airport tell a different story. “The referendum to fund the county’s one-third of the purchase passed 72 to 28 percent,” Shearin says.
Paulding was to close on the land, which will be used as a wildlife management area, in December. State and federal money paid for the other two thirds of the cost of the land.
“We hired a company to do an ecological study of 10,000 acres,” says Blake Swafford, executive director of the airport department and the IBA. The study, which was conducted prior to the land purchase, determined where the wildlife and the unique features of the property exist. “We want to protect sensitive areas, watersheds. We started with the protection piece.”
The 10,000 acres include land that the airport department owns and some that it doesn’t own yet but plans to purchase. The long-term idea is to develop the land in mixed-use pods or clusters, leaving greenspace between and within the clusters.
The aviation cluster would include businesses essential to air travel such as airplane maintenance and companies that use air travel on a regular basis. The northeast village would be a mix of office space, retail and residential. The hotel and convention center cluster would feature a lake, golf course, residential, office space, plus senior living and a hospital.
“We’re looking at a 25-year horizon,” Swafford says. And along the way they’re asking the questions: “What do we want? What is beneficial to the county? What do we need for live, work and play?” he adds. “The goal is to do away with commutes.”
At least commutes as they’re considered today. Paulding County officials are betting that Very Light Jets (VLJs) will be the commuter vehicle of the future. “VLJs will make airports like this real transportation centers for the communities they’re in within the next five years as prices come down,” Swafford says.
VLJs are a new concept in air travel. Lightweight, more fuel efficient and considerably less expensive than other corporate-type jets, VLJs are expected to bring the world of charter flights to the masses, or at least to more business travelers, who will be able to summon air travel the way taxis have been called in the past.
“If you’re a new air taxi business, why not go in at Paulding airport?” Shearin asks. “It’s new, brightest and best.”
To lure companies that may need air taxi service, the technology park scheduled for development across Highway 278 from the airport will offer a “state-of-the-art fiber backbone,” providing high-speed internet access and data transfer for the entire park, Swafford says.
Construction of the technology park is next on the development schedule, before the clusters immediately surrounding the airport. Residences and businesses in the clusters surrounding the airport also will have fiber, which offers home-based businesses the broadband ability many need but can’t find outside major cities.
The county is still acquiring land for the park across the highway and is looking for a private developer to partner with on the project. In terms of industry for the park, “two things come to mind,” Swafford says. “There are lots of companies that migrate toward regional airports, insurance fraud investigators, for example. Not aviation companies, but aviation dependent.”
The industrial park also should appeal to companies looking for an educated workforce outside an urban area. “We have excellent recreation, wildlife, a good school system and good land prices,” Swafford says.
Conservation And Construction
When it comes to the metro area’s latest environmental crisis, Paulding officials are leading the way in water conservation efforts. “Because we are focusing on the environment, I think we’ll be the top county on water conservation,” Shearin says.
To deal with the drought, Paulding took the firmest steps in the state to conserve water back in the fall when it enacted a zoning moratorium and outlawed all outdoor watering. “I think water is the transportation of the 21st century,” Shearin says. “It’s what companies will fight over.”
Recycling also has become a hot topic in this green county. “Because we’re not a very affluent county we’ve been behind the curve on recycling,” Shearin says. The recycling center has been spruced up, and the county has begun a public information campaign on the benefits and how to go about recycling. “Recycling is a money loser,” he adds. “You’re lucky if you can even break even. We’re trying to be environmentally conscious and friendly.”
The county’s other major project is a $65 million courthouse complex under construction on 60 acres on Highway 278 south of downtown. The complex will house all county government functions when it opens in 2008.
Shearin says he became aware of the need for a new courthouse when he walked into his office in the circa- 1892 courthouse for the first time in January 2001. A garbage can sat on his desk catching rain as it leaked through the roof. Shearin’s office has since been moved across the street and the old courthouse, which now sports a new roof, continues to house county court functions.
Nonetheless, the building is functionally obsolete, he says. “The citizenry has been much more supportive than I thought they’d be,” Shearin says of the project. “They realize it’s time for a complex worthy of this county.”
Dallas city officials are concerned about the exodus of the 200 county employees and the empty buildings in downtown once the new complex is complete. Area colleges and universities, including Kennesaw State University, the University of West Georgia and Chattahoochee Technical College are looking at the buildings as possible sites for classes. The work the city of Dallas has done to spruce up downtown also makes it a desirable location for any number of businesses.
The streetscape project, which brought a fountain (dry now, of course, in environmentally conscious Paulding) and streetlights to downtown, is almost complete. The city is working on plans for a one-acre trailhead park on the south end of town to bring people from the Silver Comet Trail into downtown Dallas. It also is extending sidewalks from town to connect with subdivisions.
The art deco Dallas Theater has been renovated to its 1926 glory. It reopened in summer 2007 with a month-long run of the play Mount Pleasant Homecoming, which moved to Dallas from Marietta’s Theatre in the Square. The 550-seat theater, which boasts an expansive balcony section, has hosted a wedding, complete with movie-ticket invitations, can host meetings and is equipped for showing films. Adjacent to the theater, the new civic center was set to open in mid-January, giving the city additional meeting or reception space in downtown.
“We have two parking decks in design for downtown,” says City Manager David Clabo. “To support the civic center, theater and merchants.”
“We’re in the parks and recreation business again,” says Mayor Boyd Austin. “Sara Babb Park was returned by the county to the city.” The park features a pool, tennis courts, ball fields and greenspace.
The city also completed a Livable Centers Initiative study in 2007. LCI is a program of the Atlanta Regional Commission that supports creation and implementation of innovative plans for the improvement of town centers and corridors. “We have a good blueprint for what we will do in Dallas,” Austin says.
One thing the city is considering is a northern bypass. “State 61 is heavily traveled and runs through the historic district,” Austin says. The city is looking for money to fund a study of the proposed project at this point.
The city also has been working on a water-well project for almost eight years. “I’ve spent more time in the last month on water than ever,” Austin says. The project is in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s permitting process. Meanwhile, city officials have been trying to educate the populace on water conservation measures. “I don’t think people understand the gravity of the situation,” he adds.
Dallas doubled the number of employees in the public works department in 2007 in order to meet EPD guidelines on water and sewer. In addition, the police department has been expanded and the pay scale upgraded to make pay more competitive.
Parks And Retail
Over in Hiram, southeast of Dallas, city officials have renovated the 12-acre Ben Hill Strickland, Sr. Memorial Park in 2007 to include an amphitheater, walking trails, a lake, basketball courts and tennis courts. “The park is our new crown jewel in Hiram,” says Mayor Carmen Rollins. “Nobody was at the park before the work. Now, on weekends you see lots of families.”
The city also built a new recreation building for the Hiram Ruritan Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007. The club runs the ball fields across the street from the park. The old building was renovated for Hiram’s first Boys & Girls Club summer program. “We’re trying to raise money for a permanent program,” Rollins says. “The city’s latchkey kids need mentors and a positive place to hang out.”
Hiram may have the smaller residential population of the two cities, but Paulding County’s commercial stretch runs along U.S. 278 in Hiram’s city limits. The city already boasts a number of chain stores. Now a Walgreen’s is scheduled to go up at the intersection of GA 92 and 278, requiring relocation of a Waffle House. A Best Buy has recently opened here, and Dick’s Sporting Goods and Staples office supply are on the way.
“We’ve been hearing for two years about getting a new Lowe’s,” Rollins says. The home improvement retailer was scheduled to go before the city council in January to request a zoning change.
The Lowe’s would go up across 278 from the new WellStar hospital. A doctor’s office building is nearly complete, with construction of the hospital set to begin soon after. “That’s going to bring high end jobs to Paulding County,” Rollins says of the state-of-the-art hospital. “So people can stop getting up and leaving every morning.”
Commercial interests aren’t confined to Hwy. 278. The old downtown Hiram, on Hwy. 92 just south of 278, has been renovated in the past four years. New businesses are in every location in the downtown area, the mayor says.
And the city has been hosting events such as Old Town Hiram Day. “We’re trying to get people out of their cars, walking around downtown,” Rollins says. “The Silver Comet Trail brings in tourism. We’re hoping to get them into town to spend money.”
According to TrailExpress.com, a website devoted to information on multi-use trails throughout the Southeastern United States, two highlights of the Silver Comet Trail are in Paulding County. First is the Pumpkinvine Creek Trestle, a 750-foot-long, 126-foot-high bridge. Farther west is the 800-foot-long Brushy Mountain tunnel. Seventeen miles of trail run through the county as it moves from Smyrna to the Alabama line.
Supporting the cities and the county in tourism goals are the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce and its new President and CEO Carolyn Delamont, who came to the job in January 2007.
Delamont brings to Paulding years of chamber experience gained while serving as president and CEO of two fast growing chambers in the Houston, Texas, area. She has overseen economic development capital campaigns for various chambers and most recently served as president of the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce in Winder.
The chamber’s tourism committee was scheduled to begin work in January on a three- to five-year plan for growing tourism. The effort will build on assets such as the Silver Comet Trail; Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site, recognized as one of the nation’s best-preserved Civil War battlefields; and other historic sites related to the Civil War.
Tourism isn’t the only form of economic development the chamber is promoting. “We’re working with the airport board on marketing pieces to help promote the county outside Georgia,” Delamont says.
The chamber also is working to bring SCORE to Paulding, Delamont says. SCORE is a national mentoring program that partners retired businesspeople with those who are just starting out. This would tie in with the Entrepreneur Friendly designation Paulding received. The state’s Entrepreneur Friendly initiative helps counties cultivate business environments that encourage entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“We’re also working with the school district to develop an education foundation,” Delamont says. The foundation, which kicked off its efforts last month, hopes to bring driving simulators into local high schools to teach students how to drive under different circumstances. “The Home Builders Association and the chamber of commerce are working to raise the funds,” she adds.
“The people are open-minded. Elected officials are forward thinking. I’m excited to be here,” Delamont says. “Lots of things are in the works for Paulding County.”
Paulding County, 121,530; Dallas 9,437; Hiram 1,896
Paulding County, 3.9 percent; Georgia, 4.2 percent
Top Five Employers:
Wal-Mart, 701; WellStar Health System, 365; Aiken Grading Co., 260; AT&T, 230; Metromont Corp., 200
Paulding County Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia Dept. of Labor