Bebe Heiskell, Walker County Commissioner, gives a state of the county talk Tuesday at the Walker County Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Civic Center in Rock Spring, Ga. Heiskell is the sole commissioner for the county.Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Chattanooga Times Free Press.Chattanooga Times Free Press
ROCK SPRING, Ga. — While the national unemployment rate has hovered around 9 percent for the last three years, Walker County's 7.5 percent unemployment rate is one of the best in Georgia — and the country.
Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell shared those figures Tuesday during a "state of the county" address that drew about 200 people to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
"The nation is in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression," Heiskell said at the Walker County Civic Center in Rock Spring. "The state of Walker County is good."
Reading from a prepared speech, Heiskell credited the county's fiscal well-being to a number of factors, including reinvestments by major businesses, such as Roper Corp., a 1,350-employee manufacturer of stoves, and by the 205-employee brake manufacturer Nissin Brake Georgia. The plants are due to introduce updated models.
Heiskell praised the Walker County Development Authority for working with five to 10 business prospects at a time and said development officials don't get discouraged when prospects don't pan out -- which is the case most times.
"They just keep on keeping on," Heiskell said.
Development Authority Executive Director Larry Brooks said he was grateful for Heiskell's praise, although he heard it second-hand since he was busy promoting the county to a business prospect from the West Coast.
"I've actually been with him all day," Brooks said. "I hated to miss the speech, but it is important to try to accommodate these companies when they come in,"
Last week, Brooks handled a business prospect from Chicago; two weeks before that, he was with a California business considering Walker County.
"There's a lot of interest in our region," Brooks said. "The growth that happened in Chattanooga is kind of spilling out into other communities. And we're very grateful for that."
At the luncheon, Heiskell told the crowd that businesses always ask three questions: How are your schools? Do you have an airport? Do you have a hospital?
"Erlanger at Hutcheson's success is not an option; it is an imperative to which I pledge my full and unyielding support," Heiskell said, referring to the struggling Fort Oglethorpe hospital.
It's an election year, and Heiskell touted a number of improvements that she said have taken place during her more than 11 years in office.
"Please indulge me, as I list and describe just a few of the improvements," Heiskell said, as she launched into a 17-item list that ranged from mowing road right-of-ways four times a year instead of two, to improving the county's fire insurance rating, to building a combination community center and fire station in Villanow.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.