Paulding County: Soaring Ahead
For decades Northwest Metro’s Paulding County has been a bedroom community. It was a great place to live, but each day it emptied out as workers made their way to jobs in Cobb and Atlanta. Now a new Paulding is beginning to emerge. With a burgeoning aerospace sector and a state-of-the-art hospital, the region is on the cusp of achieving the balance between businesses and residential its leaders have long sought.
“The stars are starting to line up, and Paulding is primed for economic growth,” says Carolyn Wright, the longtime president and CEO of the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce who retired in June. “We’ve had our difficulties, but I think in the coming months you’ll see Paulding become a prime spot for relocations and business as the economy gets better nationwide. A lot of work has been done through these years of the downturn, and I think you’ll see Paulding come alive and grow and prosper.”
As the county has emerged from a recession that lasted longer than many anticipated, the strength of its existing industry base becomes apparent. The county’s businesses – most of them small – have started ramping up as orders pour in again.
“We’ve had some outside companies coming in, but the majority of the job creation right now is being created organically with those existing industries,” says Blake Swafford, former executive director of the Paulding County Industrial Building Authority and director of the Paulding County Airport.
While Paulding was slow to recover from the economic downturn that devastated its home-building sector, one industry that has thrived is healthcare. Led by Marietta-based WellStar Health System, the county now has a state-of-the-art medical center and a thriving community of physicians and medical service providers. It’s the kind of first-rate healthcare that is an asset when it comes to recruiting companies, according to Robert Reynolds, executive director of economic development for Paulding County.
Located on Highway 278 near Hiram, the $125-million, 300,000-square-foot Well- Star Paulding Hospital has surgical suites, patient rooms, labs and an emergency room that’s brought modern medical care to an area long lacking in these services. The eight-story facility has also brought some 500 new non-physician jobs to the county as well.
Paulding is benefiting from a trend now sweeping Metro Atlanta. Big medical groups like WellStar have gotten busy locating medical facilities and services in close proximity to potential patients. Many of these are once-rural areas that are being transformed by population growth in the city’s suburbs and exurbs.
“They’ve only been open for a short time, and they’re already expanding the facility,” notes Reynolds. “[The hospital] exceeded the expectations, and that’s evident in the fact they are completing the top two floors of that new facility well ahead of schedule. That’s expected to bring in over 200 new healthcare-related jobs directly into Paulding County, just at their facility. So the impact has been tremendous and continues to be so.”
WellStar has been working to build out the two previously unfinished floors and double the number of patient beds available in the two-year-old facility. The nearly 50,000-square-foot buildout will increase the facility’s beds from 56 to 112.
The hospital in some regards is a symbol of the evolving Paulding. Its modern towers sit at the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the county. Visitors who notice it for the first time are impressed to see such a facility in this edge county, according Reynolds. “It speaks volumes about Paulding and helps us sell the county by just having that new state-of-the-art facility here,” he says.
Taking to the Skies
One of the county’s strongest jobs creators has been a cluster of aerospace companies that located to Paulding over the years. They range from toolmakers in both metal and composites to parts fabricators for aircraft of all types.
“They are having banner years, and that’s a big tool for us in recruiting other aerospace companies where we can say we have this core unit that is already located here and bidding on projects,” says Swafford. “If you’re interested in coming to Paulding County, there are resources here. You can share with these companies and utilize those resources that are already in the community.”
These firms include Aerospace Fabrications of Georgia that builds metal parts used in the construction of landing gears and other airplane components. Top Flight Aerostructures also creates parts for airplanes using composite materials rather than metal. Both contribute to the construction of planes but don’t compete directly with each other, according to Swafford.
Another company in the aerospace sector is West Cobb Engineering and Tool, which builds tools and structures used in the construction of aircraft and was recognized as Paulding County’s 2015 Manufacturer of the Year.
Wade Terrell founded the company in 1987 after a decade-long stint with Lockheed. He wanted a place to work that was close to home and that allowed him to build the kind of business that not only made money, but treated workers with respect.
His initial goal was to win contracts from big firms like his former employer, Lockheed, but that proved harder than expected.
“It took about six or eight years to get my foot in the door,” says Terrell. “We were just too small.”
The company got a lucky break with the F-22 fighter program. Lockheed was sending out contracts to foreign firms to produce the various tooling needed to build the planes. Some of these tools failed inspection and required reworking. To avoid a costly shipment overseas, the company sought out West Cobb to do the repairs.
Their success led to more work with the program’s prime tooling suppliers. Then in a case of “reverse off-shoring,” some of these companies hired West Cobb to build the product itself.
“These companies in Europe started letting us quote fabrication of entire tools,” recalls Terrell. “They would win the bid and instead of building them in England and shipping them over here, they decided we could build them in Cobb County at a smaller shop at a better rate.”
In time Lockheed realized what was going on and decided to cut out the foreign middleman in favor of hiring West Cobb directly.
Realizing that there is strength in numbers, West Cobb’s Terrell and other companies joined together to promote the Paulding Aerospace Alliance.
“It allows those companies to all communicate and partner and learn from each other,” says Swafford. “That way all of them are able to take advantage of ideas and the things that the other companies are doing. These companies are in the aerospace industry, but they all do something a little different than the others. They are not directly competing with each other.”
The companies have been able to work together to secure business that might have otherwise gone elsewhere.
“If there is a project that requires multiple processes that one company may not be able to do, the companies can go in together and bid on that work,” says Swafford. “It has allowed all of them to bid on more work than what they would have on their own.”
In addition, the companies have also done work sharing. When one company has a deadline and doesn’t have the production capacity to meet it, “they’ll pick up the phone and call one of the other manufacturers and say ‘Hey if you have some capacity, you can help us with getting parts out,’” Swafford says.
“So if one company is slack and the other has too much on their plate, they’re able to share that work and it benefits everybody.”
This arrangement seems to be working well as all of the companies are growing and expanding their business offerings.
“The goal was that we would be able to approach one of the primes like NASA and Lockheed and say instead of offering one company that just does tooling, we wanted to say we’ve got an organization here in Paulding County that routinely works together, and we can offer you a package where we can design and build tools,” Terrell says.
The growth of the aerospace sector has also gotten attention outside of Georgia. When Terrell was invited to do a presentation at a small business conference hosted by NASA, he included a slide on the Paulding Aerospace Alliance. He described how the companies were working together to offer customers a one-stop shop of services. Immediately afterward, a NASA official asked for more details on how the alliance works. He and his team are now planning a trip to Paulding to explore the possibilities of doing business with these companies.
Without a major interstate or rail connections, the county is unlikely to attract big-box distributions centers, so small businesses like these aerospace companies are well suited for the county, according to Reynolds.
“But our labor force is outstanding,” he says. “We can fill any job that’s out there. We can meet any type of labor force requirements in those technical jobs, such as the aerospace manufacturing industry or medical sector. Those are jobs that we’re continuing to seek out and are a great fit for Paulding County.”
Go With the Flow
While it hasn’t generated many headlines, Paulding took another big step toward fostering development with construction of the Richland Creek Reservoir. In fast-growing Metro Atlanta, water has long been recognized as the key to development. For many years, the county has gotten its water from the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, which draws it from Lake Allatoona and the Chattahoochee River.
When word came that the water authority could no longer guarantee a supply, county leaders knew they had to take action.
“We were the only county surrounding us within 15 counties that didn’t have their [own] water source,” says County Commission Chairman David Austin.
The new Paulding County system will withdraw water downstream of the Lake Allatoona dam on the Etowah River. With the Richland Creek Reservoir project, the county will finally have its very own water supply and distribution system, with a capacity estimated to meet local needs for the next 50 years. Located on 700 acres of county-owned land, the 305-acre reservoir will store about 3.43 billion gallons of water. The county will also build a raw water intake and pump station, a raw water pipeline and a water treatment plant.
“The process is moving along at a very rapid pace,” says Austin. Construction could begin by the end of the year, and the reservoir is expected to be completed by 2021.
The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) is providing $15 million to Paulding to increase the size of a 13-mile pipeline that will connect the future Richland Creek Reservoir to customers in the county.
“There has to be a pipeline built from the Etowah River to take water out,” Austin says. “We’re building that pipeline and putting that pump station in the Etowah. Then we pump it into Richland Creek.”
Austin acknowledged that having its own water source would be an asset in attracting new business and industry – particularly heavier water users.
“They’re predicting Paulding to have by 2030 a quarter of a million people,” he says. That means there’s a rapidly growing need for a secure and reliable water supply.
In the county seat of Dallas, there’s new life and a renewed sense of vigor – particularly in the downtown. Over the past few years, the city has been busy improving the look of the town with an ambitious streetscape project. The plan also includes creating a series of “gateways” into the city that are clearly marked with its new symbol – the downtown courthouse’s clock tower, its most distinctive feature.
“You would know you’re coming into the city of Dallas when you go by those gateways,” says city manager Kendall Smith.
The refurbishment of downtown has been guided by a Livable Centers Initiative study that is now into its second phase. After upgrading the city’s Main Street, work is underway on the Johnston Street corridor that runs parallel to this central artery.
The work will add sidewalks and give it the same look and feel – and walkability – as the rest of downtown. It will also help provide a secondary artery to move students attending classes at the local campuses for Georgia Highlands College and Kennesaw State University, according to Mayor Boyd Austin Jr.
“What it has done is given us a blueprint to follow with our streetscape and everything else we’ve done to give the town an identity and help us with our marketing and promoting that area,” he says.
Dallas is now beginning to feel a full recovery from the recession, which hit Paulding earlier and stayed longer than many other parts of the country.
“About the time we finished our streetscape and a lot of the downtown improvement is when the recession hit, and that naturally curtailed a lot of the growth,” says Mayor Austin.
Along with a new brewpub and restaurant downtown (see page 68), the city is also seeing more people who want to be permanent residents.
The city had issued 38 new building permits by April of this year compared to just 51 during all of 2015. Those new homes bring with them a value of $5.7 million and an average home price of $150,957. That was also an increase over last year’s $145,000.
“Residential is making a comeback,” says Narda Konchel, owner of Village Realty Services in Dallas. “The prices are finally above foreclosure prices. We were one of the last counties to recover because we were one of the fastest growing. We had more foreclosures than some of our surrounding counties.”
In the city of Hiram, economic prospects are also looking up as city leaders work to bring new businesses into the central business district. The town recently started installing a sewer system to replace a reliance on septic tanks for both business and residents.
“We want to be ready for the growth that will be coming,” says Mayor Teresa Philyaw. “We are all joining forces to make sure that Hiram is as business friendly as possible and has the infrastructure that is needed.”
Being prepared and welcoming are traits that have made Paulding County not just a good place to live, but a place to work and do business.
Brewing Business: Well-educated young people are often viewed as the savior for cities everywhere – even small towns like Dallas in Paulding County. And there’s no better indication that these millennials are here then the new brewpub downtown.
A brewpub is different than the breweries that are growing in popularity across the state. While both make beer, a brewpub also sells food – at least 50 percent of its revenue must come from food sales.
Gary Leake and his wife, Kathy, owners of Johnnie MacCracken’s Celtic Firehouse Pub in Marietta, had bought the L-shaped building – a former Peoples Drug store complete with a soda fountain that was a popular hangout in town – at Main Street and Courthouse Square some 16 years ago and since then rented it to various businesses. The last of these was Journey Church. After the church decided to move, the space became available just as Leake himself was conducting a search for another pub location outside of Marietta.
The Marietta location boasts more than 70 rotating taps of craft beer, including the most Belgian beers on tap in the Southeast.
“Craft beer has been growing in double digits for the last six to seven years,” says Leake. “The public wants better beer, and they want fresh and better ingredients.”
While the Marietta pub only sells beer, the new brewpub in Dallas will brew its own and sell on premise, including “handcrafted IPAs, wheat, amber, stout or porter and a series of one-offs that will be brewed with the local home brewers,” says Leake. “We may have to contract out a lager, as this type of beer takes more time and is more expensive to brew at our level.”
Dallas offered Leake and his new brewpub “an incredible amount of savvy young citizens who are responsible homeowners making great incomes within 10 miles of our new location,” according to Leake.
A homegrown craft brewpub tends to be a destination for beer enthusiasts and will draw them in from miles away, he adds.
“We already feel that we have had a fairly large contingent of Paulding County people who visit the Square that would rather not make that drive if something like us was there,” he says.
“It’s going to truly be something that people will be pretty proud about,” he adds. “It’s still rare enough that when you have a brewery in your town, it’s a fantastic thing.”– Randy Southerland