No, these are not boom times, nor even good times but they are quite visibly not bad times either based on all the “new stuff” by way of employment, retailing, investment either starting to come on line or in the pipeline.
Perhaps the improving times were largely missed because of the political campaign season just ended, when doom, gloom and the end of the world economically were emphasized and probably exaggerated. It continues even now with rhetoric about the approaching “fiscal cliff.” It is really more like a steep ski slope than a cliff, sure to break a lot of legs if not avoided but hardly the “We’re all going to die!” fate of lemmings.
Even granting Greater Rome certainly did not pass through the darkest hours of the recent past unscathed, it is remarkable how little notice has been paid, how little general mood enhancement has occurred, to a rather stunning and continual drumbeat tempo of positive happenings of which an amazing number are visible to the naked eye driving the streets and the informed eye reading our newspaper.
Without doubt for many places across the land this remains the time when it is darkest before the dawn. In many others a crack of dawning light has become visible and perhaps most clearly in Greater Rome where the sun is again up, even though not yet high in the sky.
EVEN DURING the worst of the so-called Great Recession this community managed to keep on keeping on, not only rolling fairly well with the punches due to savvy and proactive local government but even maintaining its steady course of being progressive, constantly improving. For example, the Armuchee Connector and Etowah Terrace apartments and Harbin’s cancer center are now operational, part of everyday life in these parts and taken for granted even though they did not exist when “the bottom dropped out.”
It’s probably impossible to catalog all the upbeat economic events in and around town without leaving some out because there are so many of them. Most amazing of all, this drumbeat of a march toward ever-better times has largely seemed to escape the notice of many.
Most recently — unless something else happens before this is published as the positive pace has been that rapid — Rome businessman/developer Ira Levy announced he had finally locked up financing for a 24-room addition to his downtown Hawthorn Suites hotel that had been kicking around in “pending, still trying” mode for years. That may bode very well for other long-in-the-wings downtown hotel projects (there are two of them announced but not assured).
In case anybody misses the significance of this, or why downtown Rome already seems growing with facelifts, new ventures, new parking lots: These new rooms at the inn for guests are nowhere near interstates or main traffic flows from which occupants can be lured. This means that already, and increasingly, visitors are coming to Rome as a destination, a place they specifically want/need to be for whatever the reason. That’s the definition of a city that is “a happening sort of place.” Those are the cities with an assured future.
THEN THERE are the new Lowe’s distribution center, up and starting to hire the 600 employees it will need, and newcomer Foss Manufacturing — a textile outfit, of all things — looking hard for the 150 skilled workers it needs to start up. Those two, alone, replace the 750 jobs lost when the state closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital only a bit more than a year ago — the single largest local employment slash inflicted during the downturn.
Impossible to miss right across from Floyd Medical Center on Turner McCall Boulevard is the new shopping center to be anchored by Publix, rising from the ground even though a year ago probably a majority of Romans believed it was a fairy tale. It will have more shops, more restaurants as well and is reported already about 92 percent leased. That is probably another 200-250 jobs right there.
Easy to miss — probably 95 percent of Floyd Countians haven’t seen what is going on — is a huge chunk of rural territory just southwest of Rome being torn up for the western leg of the Rome Bypass, a $60 million highway improvement.
Even the “small stuff” is happening, some quite visible and anticipated, like Dunkin’ Donuts finally making an appearance as part of a rebuilt from the ground up Shorter Avenue service station. By the way, all during the worst of the economic retrenchment period, many new retailers and eating places catering to the sudden consumer interest in frugality and bargains popped up all over the community. For example, there are three Dollar Trees in Rome now; back in 2008 there was one. Goodwill Industries has filled what was once the largest supermarket building in town. And there are some darn good, quite tasty, all-you-can-eat buffets present where $7-$8 will buy a remarkably good dinner for the entire families and retired couples crowding the tables.
AT THE SAME time, and newly arrived perhaps in reflection of the economic sun rising in Rome earlier than in other places, have you been to the newly remodeled and expanded Kroger and Sam’s Club yet? Those are particularly interesting in the message delivered regarding tomorrow. They offer a variety and quality of upper-end delicacies and goods that one can assume a lot of natives have never heard of in their lives, much less tasted, in addition to even more of “the basics.” This selection is what is normal for such retailers in upscale and culturally diverse metropolitan neighborhoods.
If this (and Publix) hint at Greater Rome having finally been “found” as a center for retailing profit that means a whole lot more stuff well known but long missing locally may soon be making an appearance at either Mount Berry Square mall, just sold and finally run by hands-on owners, or at the proposed City Center mega-retailing strip on Riverside Parkway where the Ledbetter interests continue to dream and remove obstacles.
For those who got left out of this quick survey — including the many well-established local industries who have been announcing expansion/investment plans and all the new little mom-and-pop operations proving that small business entrepreneurs are alive and well — our apologies. The purpose here is to make a point, not create a catalog.
The point is that Greater Rome, if not roaring back from having slow going because of all the nationally created bumps in the road, is already moving ahead at a pretty good clip.
NOW THAT the stench of political garbage has at least been reduced, it is time to stop, look around and smell the roses.