On Wednesday, the pealing of the bell -- now housed in the Bartow County Government Annex -- filled the air, heralding good news. The Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce held a ceremony to launch the Buy Bartow-Work Bartow campaign, which encourages local businesses to hire Bartow County residents. For each new hire, the fixture will chime.
Events on Wednesday included the bell ringing, which saw 32 residents hired since Jan.1 ring the bell; various speakers; a prayer service; and the reading of resolutions by State Rep. Christian Coomer and Bartow County Commissioner Clarence Brown.
The initiative is part of the chamber's plan to stimulate the economy and return money spent to the local area.
"Every dollar is going to turn around about five to seven times when it's spent here locally," Chamber Interim President Joe Frank Harris Jr. said. "There are about 5,200 people right now that are on the bench, unemployed in Bartow County wanting to get back to work. I believe I heard the staggering statistic that there are about 4,000 vacant houses in Bartow County. Buy Bartow and then when you get ready to hire let's get them people off the bench."
The chamber's initial goal is 500 jobs, or a 1 percent increase in employment, but Harris doesn't see it stopping there.
"Our goal again, initially -- it's a little goal -- 500 jobs ... People are saying, 'When you gonna stop?' We'll stop when we got 10 signs planted back here. That'll be the 5,000 people," he said.
Poured by the Meneely Bell Co. in New York City, the brass bell was cast in 1870 and weighs 500 pounds with a 250-pound carriage. Historically, Harris said, bells have been used to communicate within the community.
"I'm sure this bell rung when we won the Spanish-American War, when we won World War I, when we won World War II, all the weddings," he said. "Now we want to celebrate again, bring back that tradition ... not just a bell of victory but a bell of hope."
With the unemployment rate in Bartow County above 11 percent, District II Director for the Georgia Department of Labor Jerry Garland said the only way to tackle putting citizens back to work is one job at a time.
"When we talked about kicking off this initiative today, the first thing that came to my mind was the old proverbial question, how do you eat an elephant? And the obvious right answer is one bite at a time and, in our case, one job at a time," Garland said.
The campaign hasn't been without critics, including Brown who admitted to skepticism initially.
"When Joe first came to me and talked to me about it, I thought, 'Hmmmm, I don't know about that.' But the more I thought about it, I'm thinking, 'You know, that might be a good idea,' something that might stir things up around Bartow County," he said. "I think this is really going to get some attention around here."
Parnick Jennings, who spoke on behalf of the business community, advised those involved to use the naysayers as motivation.
"What good is it to have a band at a football game? What good is it to sing hymns before a preacher gets up to preach? What good is it on Sunday mornings to ring bells inviting people to church? What good did it do to ring the bells at the end of World War I and World War II? What good was it for Joshua and the children of Israel to march six times around the city of Jericho with nothing but ram's horns and the seventh time they all shouted and the walls came tumbling down?" he asked.
"You know there is a significance to me in ringing this bell. It will be a reminder that we, who are out here trying to help our community, it'll be just another little bit of enthusiasm," Jennings said. "So when the critics come up to us and say, 'It's not working. It's not working, it's only been 150 new jobs. It's not working, it's only been 300 new jobs. Joe, it's not working, there's only been 500 new jobs. It's not working cause there's only been 2,000 new jobs.' We're going to have our critics. I would encourage you to stay the course, stay fast in what you want to do."
For more information on Buy Bartow-Work Bartow or the chamber, call 770-382-1466 or visit www.cartersvillechamber.com.