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Chamber CEO: Image makeover needed

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With several major redevelopment projects scheduled to take place within the county in the near future -- such as the redevelopment of Mountain View and Fort Gillem -- international investors are making inquiries about doing business in Clayton County.

However, many of those investors are kept at bay, due to a pervasive public image problem, said recently appointed Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lacey Ekberg during a meeting of the Lake Spivey Rotary Club on Wednesday morning.

Ekberg said the county needs to aggressively market a positive image of itself to attract new businesses. "The calls we are getting right now are feelers, but because of what people are hearing on the web, they are waiting," to invest, said Ekberg, recalling a recent visit from an Indian businessman who visited the county to research the possibility of starting a telecommunications and broadcasting firm.

"The nationwide perception of Clayton County is really bad," said Ekberg. "Before we have economic development, the perception of Clayton County has to change. Clayton County is a wonderful place to live, but the world isn't seeing that."

Ekberg said a large part of the current perception problem has to do with the school board and its investigation by the Southern Association Colleges and Schools (SACS). The organization has threatened to revoke the accreditation of the school system in the wake of recent problems.

Recently, the chamber publicly called for all nine members of the county school board to resign. While Ekberg said it would be a bad idea to "wipe out" the entire board at once, the chamber is calling for qualified individuals to replace the current members.

"We are asking anybody who is qualified to do the job to stand up," said Ekberg. "We will help you through the process. We need to be very calm about this and be very proactive."

Ekberg comes to the chamber from a trouble-shooting background. Prior to working for the Clayton Chamber, she spent four years with the United States Department of Commerce, going into economically depressed regions of the country and creating stimuli for development.

Between 2002 and 2006, Ekberg created a Chamber of Commerce in Seward, Alaska and served as its executive director. During that time, she brought new tourism to the city by creating business partnerships with Alaskan cruise lines, downtown walking tours, and a tram line to transport tourists from the docks to shops and other businesses in the city.

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said he appreciated Ekberg's "new perspective" and the chamber's willingness to help change the county's image.

"This woman represents a lady who has often taken tasks at their lowest ebb and she has taken them to unseen heights," said Bell. "This a new perspective at a time when we have great challenges. I'm glad to see someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves."

Bell said that he would like to work with the chamber to create an "economic vision" for the county.

"I'm impressed with the comments that were made today," said Linda Summerlin, president-elect of the Lake Spivey Rotary Club. "[Ekberg's] comments were on target in regards to economic development. I appreciate [the chamber's] willingness to do something."