Read at Georgiatrend.com or below. This article appears in the September 2023 issue of Georgia Trend.
Good things tend to happen when team members pull in the same direction. Bartow County, a northern Atlanta exurb 25 miles northwest of I-285, aka the Perimeter, is an example of how good.
Bartow does well in economic development for its rural location and relatively small population, 112,816 according to the July 2022 census. Bartow’s secret to success is hiding in plain sight: Highland 75, a 782-acre master-planned, corporate/industrial park a mile east of the I-75 Cassville-White Road exit. It’s certified under the Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development (GRAD) Program, which puts the construction project on a fast track. The secret, says County Administrator Peter Olson, is not just the park, but the motive to create it.
“… To have an economic development product the private sector lacked then, in 2004, Cartersville and the county formed the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority and split expenses, and ultimately revenues, between the city, the county, and the city and county school systems [Cartersville City and Bartow County school systems],” says Olson.
Bartow’s secret sauce has other key ingredients. One is keeping communication lines open to the pro-business community’s main players, which Olson says unifies the team and avoids conflicts. Yet another ingredient is rare in Georgia: Bartow is one of only seven sole commissioner counties. “It is a very efficient form of government because it is quick to make decisions, which helps in economic development,” says Steve Taylor, in his 13th year as commissioner.
Still another critical player is the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce. “Our role in industry recruitment is on workforce and talent recruitment,” says CEO Cindy Williams, pointing out that the role has human and digital elements. The chamber hired a workforce development director to work with companies and posts information for employers, job seekers, educators and others on the ForBartow.com website. The chamber also works with Georgia Highlands College on business internships and Chattahoochee Technical College on a unique Project Purpose program to train high school seniors, initially with technical skills.
Bartow’s unified economic development approach has recently led to several major announcements. Last December, Hyundai Motor Group/SK On announced a joint venture to build an electric vehicle battery manufacturing facility on 600 acres several miles west of I-75 between Cartersville and Rome. The nearly $5 billion project, one of Georgia’s largest, will create 3,750 jobs. In January, Qcells, one of the world’s largest, most-recognized renewable energy solutions providers, announced it would build a $2.5 billion manufacturing facility on 381 acres in Highland 75, creating 2,500 jobs. It is expected to open in 2025. Both HMG/SK and Qcells began site work in the spring.
In March, Hanwha Advanced Materials Georgia, Inc. (HAGA), a manufacturer of lightweight advanced materials for sustainable technology, announced it would build a $147 million manufacturing facility creating 160 jobs in the park to supply the Qcells facility. The plant is projected to open next summer.
In the last seven or eight years, about 20 million square feet of logistics/manufacturing space (Class A Industrial) has been built or planned in Adairsville, Emerson, the Cassville White corridor and Cartersville, says Olson. “Giant buildings have popped up everywhere, there’s a bunch under construction, and we’ve probably added 10,000 jobs in the last 10 years. We’re booming in every direction,” he says.
Drivers of that growth include proximity to Metro Atlanta, the benefits of being an interstate community and the nearby Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County, says Melinda Lemmon, executive director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development. “That has made Bartow a logical growth corridor for institutional investors, particularly related to Class A Industrial speculative buildings.”
A growth milestone occurred in 2019 when Hilton Head, S.C.-based The Foxfield Co. paid about $10.6 million for 800-plus acres next to the Anheuser-Busch plant at I-75 and Cassville White Road, says Lemmon. “That helped solidify this as a good speculative growth location,” she says. Other investors later came along and started working not only around the brewery, which undertook a $150 million expansion in 2020, but also in Adairsville, where Duluth Trading Company was to open a facility this summer, as well as in Emerson, Cartersville and along the entire I-75 corridor. The boom’s centerpiece, Highland 75, includes Voestalpine Automotive Body Parts Inc., a company headquartered in Linz, Austria that supplies parts to Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen; Constellium Automotive Structures N.A.; and Surya/Artistic Weavers, which is in the rugs and home goods space.
Two key incentives that attract companies to Bartow are quality of life and first-rate attractions. Headlining those attractions are some Cartersville museums: the Booth Western Art Museum, Tellus Science Museum and Savoy Automobile Museum.
They are operated by the nonprofit Georgia Museums, Inc., which was founded with the help of an anonymous philanthropist. The Booth opened first in August 2003. Next, Georgia Museums acquired the Weinman Mineral Museum, which later expanded to become Tellus Science Museum. The Savoy is the newest, opening in December 2021. “It is rare for a county with a relatively small population like Bartow to have this many museums of this caliber,” says Cathy Lee Eckert, Georgia Museums chief operations officer. Such museums not only offer educational experiences but boost the economy by creating jobs and drawing tourists.
The Booth was named America’s best art museum by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards in 2020, 2021 and 2022. “It has put Cartersville on the map as a cultural destination, fostered a growing arts community and helped bolster a quality of life attractive to both families and industries seeking new homes,” says Executive Director Seth Hopkins.
Tellus features the Weinman Mineral Gallery, rotating exhibits, a digital planetarium, an observatory, children’s programming and many special events.
The Savoy is named after a 1954 Plymouth Savoy discovered during site preparation. “Since opening 18 months ago, attendance has exceeded expectations,” says Director of Development Tom Shinall. Rotating displays have featured “75 Years of Porsche,” a pickup “Haul of Fame” and the “British Invasion,” featuring post-WWII European sports cars.
“People know about the Booth, Tellus and the Savoy, but they forget sometimes about the Bartow History Museum in downtown Cartersville,” says Steven Schumacher, president of the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which promotes Cartersville as “Georgia’s Museum City.” The museum displays artifacts and key moments in the 250-year history of the county.
Another Cartersville museum, Rose Lawn, is a restored 18-room Victorian mansion evangelist Samuel Porter Jones once owned. It has a fascinating history, at least according to local legend, which holds that Jones was leading a tent revival in Nashville attended by a purveyor of spirits, Thomas Ryman, who attended the revival to run Jones out of town. Instead, Jones converted Ryman – who built the Ryman Tabernacle (now country music’s famed Ryman Auditorium) – so Jones wouldn’t have to preach in tents. Rose Lawn was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1973. Five years later, the county purchased it, turning it into a museum housing writings and memorabilia of Jones and fellow Bartow resident Rebecca Latimer Felton, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
South of Cartersville in Emerson is the nation’s crown jewel of youth sports destinations. LakePoint Sports, a 1,300-acre campus that hosts 30 kinds of sports, was named a 2021 Sports Facility of the Year finalist by the Sports Business Journal. The campus, jointly funded by the county and city of Emerson, features a 170,000-square-foot Champions Center with 12 basketball courts that can be converted into 24 volleyball courts, plus baseball fields, multipurpose fields for football, soccer, lacrosse and rugby, and beach volleyball courts. Next door is Terminus Wake Park, a three-lake wakeboarding experience. “Top college coaches and pro scouts regularly attend LakePoint Sports events, says President and CEO Mark M. O’Brien, adding the facility drives an estimated $100 million annual economic impact. A new “Community Corner” visitor center helps the 2.5 million annual visitors learn about other Bartow attractions. A 114-room Element Hotel is under construction on site and is expected to open early in 2024. It will be owned and operated by Horizon Hospitality.
Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, just an hour from Atlanta, is one of the most popular destinations in Georgia for family vacations, romantic getaways, corporate meetings and special events. Steeped in almost 200 years of history beginning with the start of construction on an original manor house in the 1840s, the resort features 142 rooms between an inn and cottage accommodations, horseback riding, an 18-hole golf course, Beretta Shooting Grounds and fine dining in a storybook setting of rolling hills.
Other attractions in the county include Pine Acres Retreat with campsites and cottages to rent on Lake Allatoona, the Clarence Brown Conference Center in Cartersville with more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space, and two state parks, Red Top Mountain State Park and the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site.
When people from around the globe come to Bartow on business or to visit world-class attractions, they will find charming towns with a small-town feel. “Some cities want to expand outward,” says Mayor Matt Santini, who has led Cartersville since 2008. “I am a big believer in providing opportunities to improve areas we currently have so that more people can enjoy a style of life that is a little more walkable and maintains a sense of community.” His approach has created a palpable sense of vibrancy on Main Street that keeps restaurants and shops open into the evening. “It’s just what our city is now, a lot of people out enjoying the surroundings and the great retail and dining options we have.”
To accommodate downtown activity, the county is adding two new parking decks. One is a three-level structure on Main Street. The façade resembles buildings of another era, while the decks are designed to be repurposed as office, retail or other uses if cars, as some predict, are not needed in the future. “That meant higher ceilings and stronger, level floors,” says Olson. The other deck will be between a new 70,000-square-foot county administration building and the adjacent historic gold-dome courthouse. Construction is expected to start by year’s end and last about a year. When finished, administration building construction will begin. Upon completion, non-court offices will move there from the historic courthouse, which will continue to house courts.
Popular festivals also draw thousands of visitors to Bartow. One is the Euharlee Covered Bridge Festival the town holds every October in a park next to one of Georgia’s oldest covered bridges. Last year’s festival attracted more than 100 arts and crafts vendors. “It is a landmark event for our community,” says Katie Gobbi, Euharlee community development director. Festival admission is free. Another is the Great Locomotive Chase Festival in Adairsville, which gets its name from the Civil War episode when Union Army volunteers stole the locomotive The General and Confederates gave chase. “The event, in its 55th year, includes crafts, food, entertainment, a parade and fireworks and attracts 15,000 to 20,000 people,” says Autumn Lester, Adairsville marketing and events coordinator. Three-day tickets are $5.
Perhaps Bartow’s biggest buzz is about 16,500 acres of majestic undeveloped land, partly in Cherokee County, with woods, meadows and a trout stream. It has been in the Neel family for 100 years, and the family now wants to sell it. A master plan would put most of it in a wildlife management area and leave a portion for development around the Cassville White Road corridor. The family and state were talking about a sale but talks stalled over the price. “I’m hopeful they will sit back down and start negotiations again,” says Taylor. “I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.” His goal is to protect the wilderness portion for his grandchildren, hunters, fishermen and hikers while using some land to increase economic development. “I want Bartow to be the best place in the country to live, work and play.”
In 2018, Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese visited Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini and County Commissioner Steve Taylor and said, “We need to breathe a little life into the farmers market.”
The Cartersville Farmers Market was not doing well. Farmers were taking their goods to other community markets, and the public was pretty much staying home. As Santini remembers it, Pugliese wanted to hire someone part-time to run it.
Pugliese found the ideal candidate in Regina Shaw, who wanted to know why the market wasn’t doing well, despite many area farms. “He explained that the market lacked a dedicated coordinator but was about to hire someone,” says Shaw, now director of the famers market. “I applied and was hired.” Santini remembers telling her that, “Your job is to make this so big it won’t fit downtown anymore.” He says he was joking. She took him seriously.
It didn’t take Shaw long to figure out what was wrong. “The market was established in 1982 by a local UGA ag extension agent with the aim of enabling local farmers to sell their surplus produce. Over time, however, non-agricultural vendors started occupying space.”
It also didn’t take Shaw long to find a resolution that would return the market to its intended mission as a market for local farmers rather than a place for people to sell crafts or other items. “My primary focus was to transform it into a market exclusively dedicated to local food and agriculture.” She did that by establishing a requirement that “all vendors must grow or produce their products within a 60-mile radius.” The only exception is a seafood vendor, who travels to Cartersville each week from Darien.
“The response from the community has been overwhelming,” says Shaw.
In the four years since she was hired, more than 150,000 people have visited the market. “Most of our farmers have expanded their production to meet the growing demand. It’s the main reason our sales numbers have increased each year.” In 2022, sales exceeded $703,000. “We are already $55,000 ahead of where we were in sales this time last year!” she says. “I’m so proud to see our vendors stepping up their game to meet customer demand.”
Shaw’s success has created an interesting dilemma for Santini. ”We’ve talked about how do we create more space for the market. It’s almost too big for downtown.”
The market is open every Saturday morning, May-September, from 8 a.m. – noon at 10 North Public Square.