Working with local, regional, state and national partners, Coweta County Development Authority Project Manager Molly Giddens works to encourage and promote economic development activity throughout the county.
Even in the face of widespread uncertainty felt by the world at large, 2021 proved to be a successful year for CCDA. Molly and her team brought quality employment and exponential capital investments to Coweta County, including over 800 new jobs, 76 new projects, and $333 million in new investments.
“During 2021, the Coweta County Development Authority continued to demonstrate success in creating jobs for residents despite the ongoing pandemic,” said Coweta County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Blackburn. “A previous workforce study indicated that approximately 70% of Coweta residents leave the county for work. Therefore, we are thrilled to support local job creation and see more companies choosing Coweta County as their home. In 2022, we are hopeful for sustained economic growth with a focus on targeted industries and the quality of life we always offer.”
As Coweta County continues to grow, thanks to unprecedented demand for both industrial and office space, Molly will continue to serve business and industrial clients throughout the development process. She spoke with us about her fascinating and unexpected path to economic development during NAWIC's Women in Construction Week 2022.
What inspired you to pursue a career in Economic Development?
I don’t know of anyone (personally) who set out deciding that one day they would be an economic developer. As silly as it sounds, I came across it knowing I enjoyed strategic planning and thinking business, and most of all data analytics. Growing up, I remember my father developing his commercial real estate properties. Every day was a new day for him. Despite the highs and lows, he faced through the Great Recession; I was proud of his efforts navigating through such unprecedented times in his industry. Our family’s business coupled with my time in the classroom landed me in the best position possible - economic development.
What is your educational background? How/why did you select your program(s) of study?
My undergraduate study is in Criminal Justice and Spanish. I chose Criminal Justice as I was intrigued by overall criminal behavior patterns – the culture, norms, and learned traits of crime and delinquency. What I found was a degree of risk and crisis management and how to plan and negotiate issues before they arise. In many of our courses, we were exposed to many disciplines such as statistics, sociology, and economics. Earlier on, my goal was to focus on human trafficking then ultimately become a prosecutor aimed at curtailing trafficking in the United States. My study of Spanish would have expanded my reach in assisting victims of human trafficking and crimes against women in general. Ultimately, I chose post-graduate studies after contemplating law school to obtain my Master of Public Administration at Valdosta State University. My area of focus through the MPA program was public sector management.
Please describe your career path, including any obstacles you faced along the way.
My first job out of college was as a Shelter Manager for a domestic violence shelter in South Georgia. In that role, I facilitated the daily operations of the shelter. Additionally, I assisted with the care and management of the women and families staying in the shelter. Every day offered new challenges and obstacles for the residents and staff. In time, I needed to re-evaluate my career and my goals. I eventually took a position with the Georgia Chamber managing the Rural Prosperity Center in Tifton, Georgia.
While with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, I was first exposed to "true economic development." Growing up in Cobb County, I did not remember even knowing about the local economic development team, let alone their purposes. In my mind, community projects were being serviced by the county versus an economic development authority arm.
The exposure and connections made at the Georgia Chamber forever changed my path. Although I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to dive into economic development and came upon a position with the Coweta County Development Authority. After packing up my family and moving to Coweta County, the rest is history.
What are you working on now? What are you looking forward to in 2022?
My team and I have been working on strategically identifying industrial prospects for our community. As we evaluate Coweta County's potential for growth, it's also easy to first look to our existing industry partners.
In the past several years, the Coweta County Development Authority has looked to eliminate inefficient tax abatements, seeking to incentivize those industries that would pay above the average wage. The ultimate goal lies in employing our citizens. Over 70% of Coweta residents leave the county for work. Quality jobs would reduce the impact of outward migration. The net and overall return on investment would and will always be greater. Sadly, in the world of economic development, huge incentive packages are glorified. At the CCDA, we challenge the rhetoric working for both the industry while being fiscally responsible for the community.
We are very opportunity-rich in Coweta County. We have available sites, buildings, and access to the workforce they need. These factors are in high demand for companies, developers, and consultants alike.
In summary, we place priority on creating a pro-business environment inviting to both existing and new industries that values increased productivity and trade. We prioritize economic competitiveness while keeping the tax burden low.
What does CCDA do to encourage growth, development and construction in Coweta? Are you optimistic about the future of our shared community?
We are in a very peculiar position- we want and need growth, but we must promote it cautiously while preserving our "home-town" feel. As mentioned previously, Coweta is well-positioned for growth, specifically for the industries we are targeting. The industries we target through our business and marketing plan are both machinery and advanced manufacturing, both corporate and back office, and ideally, data centers.
Because of our current industry clusters in place and the market outlook for the office sector in the secondary markets, we are a prime location for our ideal future to come to fruition. At the Coweta County Development Authority, we understand that high productivity creates a competitive advantage. Ultimately, firms’ productivity hedges on their workforce, both current and future.
In regard to the current and future outlook of talent in Coweta County, I always look to several metrics to further analyze our standings. Those metrics are the current state of our existing industries, population projections, our unemployment rate, and Coweta's educational attainment.
The projected population for 2025 is 165,820, which is an increase of 30.2% to our current population (per the U.S Census Bureau). Much of the increase is attributed to a working-age population. In October 2021, our unemployment rate went down to 2.1%, although I understand many left the workforce. And as far as education, 23.8% of our current population possesses a high school diploma or the equivalent. This figure outweighs the State of Georgia, which comes in at 22.6%. Additionally, to note, 21.8% of our current population possess a bachelor's degree, which is .9% above the national average. Coweta county also boasts a 91.6% graduation rate.
I acknowledge that these metrics alone could not justify a positive outlook for a community. But, when we evaluate all, it sure paints a promising picture.
What do you enjoy most about your work? Enjoy least?
I will start with what I like least- which is that this is not a job you get to leave at 5PM. I will admit, at times I am envious of people who are literally able to leave work at work. We are constantly seeking information to move us forward… updates on sites, etc. Because the market is so dynamic, we are attempting to not only keep up with demand, but to also get ahead as much as possible. The intricacy of the market is also something I enjoyed about my work. No one day is the same. We are constantly being challenged and asked to work through new, complex situations.
What are the biggest challenges women face, both breaking into the construction & development industries and as they progress? What are the greatest opportunities?
Women are underrepresented in AEC industries. While I am uncertain on how women in these industries fare on advancement and pay compared to their male counterparts, the data indefinitely shows the misrepresentation as standalone employment in the field.
Being amazing at what you do is the best deterrent for workplace bias.
And honestly, if hiring biases are occurring, these are management issues. From media depictions of dirty worksites to showing only men working in these areas, it could be deferred that this is just no place for a woman. I can only assume that women have shied away from these industries because of this stigma. To me, being a woman excellent in this specific field of work gives you an automatic spotlight. You can either shy away from it or use it to your advantage. Nonetheless, the narrative needs to change.
What local resources are available to young women who want to pursue architecture, engineering, construction or development as a career?
There are various colleges and universities within close range to Coweta County. Within 50-miles, there are 60 colleges and 68 universities. Within that same 50-mile radius, the top-5 programs of graduates range from business management, to engineering, to information sciences. Georgia Tech to Auburn University both offer an array of degrees for those wanting to pursue architecture, engineering, and construction.
Both located in Coweta County, the Central Education Center and West Georgia Technical College provide innovative technical education through their dual enrollment programs and other certificates, diplomas, and associate degree programs. Their programs range from engineering technology to electrical construction and maintenance.
How can we encourage them to pursue these careers? What are the barriers (real or perceived)?
Perceptions are reality. First, we have got to change how these careers are being marketed. The marketing needs to include a diverse subset of those in the field and praise those who are successful against all odds. Furthermore, as a parent, and a parent to a daughter at that,
I will make sure to encourage a wider range of career choices in her future. I would hate to think she didn’t feel she could measure up to what appears to be a male-dominated industry.
Learn more about Molly and the Coweta County Development Authority at ChooseCoweta.com