Miller strives for growth through multiple agencies
by Jason Lowrey
Mar 17, 2014 | 1969 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sonny Miller serves on the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority as well as the Development Authority of Cartersville. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Sonny Miller serves on the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority as well as the Development Authority of Cartersville. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
For more than 30 years, Ralph “Sonny” Miller has served on various planning committees and economic development boards in Cartersville and Bartow County. He serves as treasurer on the first Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority, was recently named vice-chair of the Development Authority of Cartersville and is expected to be named to the same position if he is appointed to the Cartersville Development Authority.

The purpose of having so many authorities, he said, is to give the community as many options as possible to land economic development projects. In the case of the JDA, there have been 116 projects worth $3.9 billion that led to the creation of 8,614 jobs.

Name: Ralph “Sonny” Miller

Age: 72

Occupation: Retired 12 years ago after a 37-year career in business management at Lockheed-Martin Corp.

Family: My wife, Mary Nell; two daughters, Leigh Ann Dickson, Amy Lewis and three grandchildren

Education: Cartersville city schools and the University of Georgia (BBA,1965)

You serve on the Joint Development Authority as well as the Development Authority of Cartersville. You may also soon be appointed to the Cartersville Development Authority. How do these multiple authorities, in addition to others within Bartow County, work together for economic development?

A: The Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority began in 2004. Then Mayor Mike Fields and County Commissioner Clarence Brown saw a need for a coordinated approach to new industry recruitment and sustained maintenance of our existing industries. The city of Cartersville and Bartow County partnered in the sponsorship of a Department of Economic Development and hired professionals Ms. Melinda Lemmon and Ms. Rachel Rowell to fulfill that mission. The Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority was created to assist, nurture and manage the various projects of the Department of Economic Development.

The JDA receives its rights and authority from the enabling legislation passed by the state of Georgia; however, we are not autonomous and our chairman and economic development director keep the county commissioner and mayor informed on project performance and seek their guidance and approval. The JDA has three members appointed by the county and three members appointed by the city. There is a great balance of ability and experience among the members on the JDA and we attempt to perform at the high standard of excellence the community expects of us. We receive no pay for time spent, as it is a labor of love, commitment and pride for our community. Since 2004 we have participated in 116 projects worth $3.9 billion that created 8,614 jobs.

There are other development authorities within the city and county, so why, one would ask, do we need these additional authorities? The answer is that these entities are all born from the legislative process and each is granted specific powers and jurisdictions under the law.

For example, the Bartow County Development Authority handled the bond for the new Shaw plant in Adairsville. The Development Authority of Cartersville handled the bond for the Aquafil expansion. The Cartersville Development Authority was established by a local constitutional amendment that allows specific powers within a five-mile radius from the center of town, while the Development Authority of Cartersville allows specific powers only within the city limits.

When an industry commits to locating here or an existing industry commits to expansion the statutory authority is analyzed for the proper fit as to which authority best fits the requirement. What binds all of these authorities together is the department of economic development that is so ably and efficiently managed by only three employees, Melinda Lemmon, Rachel Rowell and Connie Salter. They are the single point of contact for new industry and existing industry.

How did you become involved in Bartow County’s economic development efforts?

A: My participation in these authorities is on the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority, the Development Authority of Cartersville and the Cartersville Development Authority.I suppose my initial inducement into economic development began some 34 years ago when I was appointed by the city council to serve a two-year term on the city of Cartersville Planning Commission. Except for one two year-interlude during 1995/1996 I have served on the planning commission for 32 years, 28 years as chairman.

In 1980, the population of Cartersville was just a tad over 5,000. Now we are at 20,000, achieved through annexation and growth. In order to attract industry you need good schools; to support those schools and other infrastructure you need industry to grow the tax base at a substantial rate to offset the growth expenses. Cartersville is still a small town so the planning commission tries to accommodate as many shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and developers as possible and still maintain neighborhood integrity.

What do you believe makes Bartow County and its municipalities attractive locations for companies to do business?

A: Bartow County is strategically located in the Northwest Georgia corridor. Transportation via Interstate 75 or rail by CSX to markets in Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama figure prominently in new industry decisions. The new 770-acre business park, Highland 75, is all tricked out with water, sewer, electrical and gas infrastructure immediately available. The Department of Economic Development provides a quick response to inquiries and maintains good follow-up procedures. The mayor and commissioner become involved as necessary.

Do you think any improvements or changes need to be made to the county’s economic development efforts?

A: The only improvements I see necessary is for some of the large manufacturers to commit to some of the large lots in the Highland 75 business park. It is show-ready and open for business.

Where did the nickname “Sonny” come from?

A: I was the last child born. My three sisters are 15, 8 and 6 years older than I am and I was just too cute to be called Ralph, so they named me “Sonny.” I’m not cute anymore but they still call me “Sonny.” I’m just glad they didn’t call me “Bubba.”

If you had a dream job, what would it be?

A: My dream job would be to captain my own fishing charter boat out of Destin, Fla.

What is your greatest achievement? 

A: I believe my greatest achievement is to reach my age and still have my teeth, hair, hearing and a small amount of sense remaining.

What would be people be surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m really shy, don’t like crowds and would likely become a recluse if my wife would allow it.

Do you have a personal motto?

A: Let a smile be your umbrella.

If you were to write your autobiography or memoirs, what would the title be?

A: “Bonfire of the Rednecks” or “Doughnuts Every Friday”