Discussions look for unifying message for Dalton

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Charlie Bethel, a volunteer community pride co-chair for Believe Greater Dalton, speaks during a community focus group on Tuesday at Dalton First Baptist Church.

DALTON, Ga. — Stephani Womack moved to Dalton four years ago when she was hired by Dalton State College and "immediately fell in love with the community."

That's why she came to the First Baptist Church of Dalton on Tuesday to take part in community pride focus groups aimed at selling the community not only to outsiders, but to residents.

"I want people to see what Dalton has to offer," said Womack, who is assistant director of the college's career and professional development center.

The noon session drew about 60 people who discussed Dalton while enjoying sandwiches and fried chicken strips provided by the Oakwood Cafe.

A second session was held at 5:30 p.m.

Participants were split into three groups and they rotated through three sessions focusing on people who live in the Dalton and Whitfield County, people who are visiting the area and potential residents and businesses that are thinking about relocating here. The sessions looked at how to market the community to each group.

"I thought it was very informative," Womack said. "People shared a lot of good ideas."

The focus groups were hosted by Believe Greater Dalton, which was was founded last fall and grew out of a study by the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce last year that found Dalton and Whitfield County have a persistent talent drain, very low educational attainment levels and a poor self-image. Believe Greater Dalton is aimed at reversing those trends.

Chamber Chairman Stuart Nelson said he was very pleased with the first focus group.

"We had a very large and energetic crowd. I think we got a lot of good feedback," he said.

Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Charlie Bethel is a volunteer community pride co-chair for Believe Greater Dalton. He also moderated the sessions on how to appeal to visitors.

"I think the thing that came through clearest today was the desire to develop a clear and unified message and to reach out to our hospitality industry — our hotels and restaurants — so that no matter where someone stops they are getting the same message," he said.

Chamber President President Rob Bradham moderated the session on attracting new residents and new businesses.

"People wanted to talk about quality of life. That was a little surprising. That isn't something you unusually think about when trying to attract new companies, but if you can show them you can provide a high quality of life for their employees it might help to bring in new companies," Bradham said.

Deanna Mathis, the other community pride co-chair for Believe Greater Dalton, said Tuesday's focus groups are just the start of a process.

"We want to find out how to tell Dalton's story," she said. "And the best medium to tell it in for each audience, the best stories to emphasize for each audience."

Officials say the next step will be to look focus groups ideas, determine which are feasible and develop a strategy based on them.

To find out more about Believe Greater Dalton, go to www.believegreaterdalton.com.

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