By Joel Hall
Morrow is weathering the impact of a sour economy with long-term planning, aesthetic improvements, and new business ventures, residents and business owners were told during the city's eighth annual Community Roundtable on Thursday.
Mike Twomey, president and executive director of the Morrow Business and Tourism Association, said the city's smaller businesses have continued to thrive due to aggressive promotion, and a focus on customer service.
"We do a lot of the advertising and we bring people from all over the state here, and other states as well. The events are very important for the city because they give us a lot of exposure. We want Morrow to almost be a second Atlanta," Twomey said.
"You have to get better to get bigger. What sets your business apart from so many others is just having a person there to answer the phone, and do it politely, and correctly," Twomey said. "Courteous, attentive service costs the proprietor nothing to implement."
Morrow City Manager John Lampl said a few of the city's national chain stores, such as Circuit City, were casualties of the economic downturn. He believes, however, that the city's Olde Morrow development near Southlake Mall will be a boomtown for small businesses.
"The national bankruptcies have happened before. It just takes a little while for the market to assimilate. Does that really change anything for the smaller independents? No, not really," he said.
"We want to put 70 to 100 independent businesses in the ground at Olde Morrow," Lampl said. "I'm not talking about nail salons, or hair salons, I'm talking about someone who is a real artist, someone who wants to do pottery, somebody who can paint."
Lampl said the city is continuing to make its residential amenities more attractive by paving roads, doing curb and intersection improvements, and expanding and connecting its greenspace. Recently, the city purchased 30 acres of greenspace off Skylark Drive which it plans to convert into a park, connected over Interstate 75 to Olde Morrow.
On May 5, the city will unveil a $100,000 improvement to its playground facilities at Milton Daniel Park.
"It's that community feeling you have to have," said Lampl. "To be able to maintain that, you have to be visually appealing. If we're not capable of being competitive, then everybody suffers. We want to make sure that our community is as vibrant as any community out there."
Many in Morrow's business community believe the city is going in the right direction.
"Morrow is really interested in the aesthetics," said the Rev. Ed Judy, pastor of Morrow First United Methodist Church. "We're a visual culture today moreso than we have ever been in our history. If it's not comfortable to the eye, people are going to go the other way. If you enter into Morrow, you notice a difference and it's a positive difference."
Randy Burgess, general manager of Truett's Grill on Mt. Zion Boulevard in Morrow, believes recent road improvements, such as the work on the I-75 interchange, will give businesses in the area greater visibility and improve tourism.
"I think Morrow does a great job of marketing," he said. "It's just easier access. These folks don't have to go down the back roads now to get to my store."
Claudia Mertl, president of Leisure Lines, Inc., Playground and Recreation Equipment Company in Morrow, believes the city is planning ahead with its Olde Morrow district and that the area will create "businesses that we haven't seen before."
"We work with a lot of cities and counties, and Morrow is by far one of the most innovative and progressive that we have ever worked with," she said. "They not only plan for today, they plan for tomorrow and what they plan, they carry out. It's wonderful to work with a city and in an atmosphere that is so pro business."