For the past 20 years, Catoosa County's economic development director was an entry-level position, said Keith Barclift, but with his hiring for the position this past March, the county is shifting toward a more aggressive approach to economic development.
Previously the vice president of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority serving Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties, Barclift is now tasked with determining how to bring business specifically to Catoosa County.
One of the answers may lie with a 50-acre industrial park which the county bought for $1.7 million in January. Within the next six months, the county hopes to have the land ready for building.
The investment, Barclift said, will hopefully draw business owners with incentives like reduced industrial tax rates and the county's work to mitigate their risk in building on the land.
Since taking ownership of the property, the county has corrected several environmental issues, and the land is now being researched to check for any protected species. The perennial large-flowered skullcap — found only in isolated populations in Georgia and Tennessee — may be present on the back portion of the site, said Barclift, but that won't be known until the species blooms in the spring.
The property was purchased as part of the current 20-year Catoosa County Joint Comprehensive Plan, which runs from 2011-2031. The plan is vague, Barclift said. It dictates goals like coordinating job training opportunities, enhancing tourism and creating mixed-use spaces. Right now, many of the authority's projects are ad hoc, he added.
His focus for the upcoming year is to work with the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce to create a detailed strategic plan that ties into both groups' overall goals and missions. Most economic development authorities in similar communities work with their corresponding chamber of commerce, he said.
Barclift said he is looking to create a plan that will entice business owners to invest in the area and inspire entrepreneurship by locals.
He also sees a detailed new plan for the Economic Development Authority as a way to hold himself accountable in his new position.
"To be successful, we need to sit down and write one for us," said Barclift.
The authority next meets Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. at the Catoosa County Administration Building in Ringgold. Beginning in January, meetings will move to The Colonnade in Ringgold.
Email Sabrina Bodon at email@example.com.