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A Conversation with Daniel Jackson & Eric McDonald of the Greater West Georgia Joint Development Authority

Beginning with only four member counties in the late 1990s, the Greater West Georgia Joint Development Authority (GWGJDA) has grown to represent seven area counties, including: Polk, Haralson, Paulding, Carroll, Heard, Coweta, and Troup.

We spoke to Eric McDonald, President & CEO of Greater Haralson Chamber of Commerce, and Daniel Jackson, President & CEO of Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, about the collaborative nature of the Development Authority that allows members to work together on multi-county projects to benefit West Georgia residents.

What are your current role and responsibilities as part of the GWGJDA?

Eric: I am a supporting staff member for the Greater West Georgia Joint Development Authority. We are an economic development and business growth entity responsible for growing the region’s retail and industrial base. The Board of Directors of the GWGJDA is appointed by the respective county commissions. Supporting staff from each of the economic development agencies also attend the meetings and suggest direction for the board.

Daniel: Our role initially was bringing everyone together. We were unorganized, we had no plan in place, and my belief was if we could work together we could be a lot more effective. The board is the one who votes on official actions, but as a staff we all work together to make recommendations for the Authority’s role in trade shows, sponsorships, or conferences and then present to the board members for them to actually approve and adopt what we suggest. As support staff, we take the responsibility to lead, recommend and suggest.

How do the seven counties work together within the GWGJDA?

Eric: When we first get an industry that’s interested in our region, we fight over it individually as counties. Then, interestingly enough, if they’reconducting a multiple county search, you’ll see that as counties get cut, we then get back on the team to help the other counties. So, it’s really “coopera-tition” at its finest, where we cooperate and we compete almost in the same breath. Member counties pay an annual fee into the pot, and everyone pays the same no matter the size. This helps the smaller counties get access to the same companies that want to talk with the largest county. We utilize that much larger population, workforce, congressional district, trade school pools in order to get meetings.

Daniel: We said one day, ‘you know there’s a good chance we’re gonna be competing with each other for projects at some point, how do we deal with that?’ and the consensus was if any of us gets it, we all won because the employers and the employees don’t so much respect county boundaries and the truth is we’re competing for the rest of Georgia, other states, the U.S. as a whole, and maybe even the globe. Also, we all did an inventory of assets in the community and if we get a call from the state or a project manager and they’re looking for a hundred acres and we don’t have it, then we’ll recommend Polk or Paulding or whoever does have it. So it’s been a good positive experience for everyone.

What are some of the Authority’s greatest success stories?

Eric: One of our greatest accomplishments was partnering with Carroll EMC to look at providing rural broadband. So we pooled our resources and partnered with them to do a broadband study which turned out to be a big economic development deal because at the time it wasn’t recognized just how dire the need was. Now, Carroll EMC has been using that report to make decisions moving forward and Haralson County used the report to deploy a $200,000 broadband contract. In fact, we are in the process of applying for another broadband grant using the report generated by the Authority.

Daniel: A few years ago, we went on a trade mission with the state and our team members rotated to help staff the Georgia Economic Developers booth. Just the ability for our various folks to go and represent the region, to work together, and to work with the state. It’s very valuable for us to get these chances to represent our counties and to draw industries to our part of the country and our part of the state. We’ve all had our victories in the last few years.

What is the Authority’s long-term vision?

Eric: For the board is to just continue to market the region and raise awareness that West Georgia is a good place to be.

Daniel: To continue to be formally affiliated with each other, to continue to invest money in a pool that we can use. Our role is really to market and get exposure for West Georgia.


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