published Friday, April 29th, 2011

Dalton, Rome: Friendly rivals


by Andy Johns

2010 POPULATION

Rome: 36,303

Dalton: 33,128

Floyd County: 96,317

Whitfield County: 102,559

Source: 2010 U.S. census

Recently released census figures confirmed what most Georgians already knew: Dalton and Rome are the biggest cities in Northwest Georgia.

As to which one is the region’s true commercial and residential hub, that depends on whom you ask.

“Is there a competition?” asked Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb. “Yeah, but it’s a friendly competition.”

Rome always has been the bigger city, but the population gap is narrowing.

In 1990 Rome had 30,000 residents, 9,000 more than Dalton.

In the 2010 census, Whitfield County was larger than Floyd County for the first time, and Dalton stood at 33,000 residents compared with Rome’s 36,000.

Various foundations and state agencies ranging from the Boy Scouts to the American Red Cross are split between the cities, with many operating area offices in both. Rome is the home of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, the Northwest Georgia Public Health District, Northwest Georgia Credit Union and the federal courthouse for the region.

Dalton claims the headquarters for the Northwest Georgia Regional Library, United Way of Northwest Georgia, Humane Society of Northwest Georgia and the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center.

Even religion can’t sort out the rivalry: the Northwest District of the United Methodist Church is based in Dalton, but the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has built its districts around Rome.

Speaking at a roundtable of lawmakers before the state legislative session, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, was asked about new political boundaries that could lump Rome and Dalton into the same congressional district.

The veteran legislator said he would support such a district but half-joked that it might bring up some of the differences between the rivals.

“We don’t get along with Rome too well. Might as well say it,” said Williams, causing other lawmakers to erupt in shocked laughter. “There’s a lot of competition there.”

“Strikingly similar”

Dalton City Administrator Ty Ross said the communities are “strikingly similar” in many regards and officials in both cities try to learn from each other. Leaders say they have compared notes on everything from police and purchasing to public transit.

“We use each other as benchmarks,” Ross said. “They look to us for ways to improve, and we use them.”

But when it comes to grants and federal or state funding that’s being divided among Rome, Dalton and often Gainesville in Northeast Georgia, the gloves come off.

“Bitter fights”

“Those are bitter fights,” Ross said. “It’s competition in the truest sense of the word.”

Babb said he’s been impressed with Rome and pointed out several high points such as a vibrant downtown, several colleges, a diversified economy and an expansive, renowned medical community. But he also was quick to point out Dalton’s positives: Interstate 75, national rail lines and carpet manufacturing.

“In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location,” he said, touting Dalton’s interstate access. Rome is about 25 miles off the freeway, and civic leaders there have been fighting for decades to get a convenient four-lane connection.

Some officials in both towns downplayed the rivalry.

“I always look forward to working with people in Dalton,” said Buzz Wachsteter, a Rome city commissioner.

On some regional boards, Whitfield and Floyd leaders have jockeyed to have their areas represented in leadership roles, but Dalton Mayor David Pennington said as long as leaders from either area make it onto statewide offices and boards, the region should benefit.

“I don’t see the competition,” Pennington said. “If there’s competition, I think we’re both doing really well with it.”

But even Wachsteter admitted that with two similar cities in a region, there will be some differing opinions.

“Everyone thinks their city is the best,” he said. “We feel we have a lot to offer, and so do the people in Dalton.”

Rome City Manager John Bennett said both cities should look farther away to see their competition when it comes to recruiting industry.

“We’re not just competing with each other, we’re competing with Huntsville, Alabama, and Maryville, Tennessee,” he said. “It’s more of a global competition now.”

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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