Steiner, who has helmed the Rome-based agency since 2005, plans to leave Jan. 4, 2013. He announced his decision to the NWGRC’s personnel and finance management committee last week, to allow time for a search for his replacement.
“After serving in the regional planning/economic development profession for 41 years, I plan to take some time off, determine how to reinvent myself, and see where the good lord guides me,” reads his letter to the board’s chairman, Whitfield County Commissioner Mike Babb.
Steiner said Monday he plans to stay in Rome with his wife, who works at Georgia Highlands College.
During his tenure the counties of the region banded together to launch several major initiatives that none could have done alone.
The Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which rehabilitates foreclosed properties as low- to moderate-income housing, has built up a revolving loan fund. It was seeded with a $6.9 million federal stimulus grant and a subsequent $3.5 million award.
“We’re the only regional entity that runs that program,” Steiner said. “I like to be progressive, to say if there’s a new concept out there, let’s see what we can do with it.”
Another new development is the $26 million, high-speed broadband network under construction in Floyd and 11 other counties in Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama.
The Rome-base Appalachian Valley Fiber Network grew out of a public-private partnership between the NWGRC and Parker Fiber Net that won a $21 million stimulus grant.
The agency also teamed up with the Northwest Georgia Water Resources Partnership — a coalition of public providers and private industries — to advocate for the region’s water rights.
And the NWGRC headquarters, a building owned by the city of Rome on Jackson Hill, got a $1.9 million upgrade and expansion through the 2009 special purpose, local option sales tax.
“When I got here, the first thing the board said to me was, ‘Funding is tight. Can you get a grant to refurbish this place? And the region should be more relevant,’” Steiner laughed. “Wow. I’m glad they told me that after I started.”
Funding has gotten even tighter since then, but Steiner said he’s going to spend his last six months pushing for another big innovation — a “one-stop-shop” to help entrepreneurs take advantage of all the available assistance.
“We have entrepreneurs who, if we could help them, could really create the businesses of tomorrow. We have the components here, but there’s no one bringing them all together,” he said. “Jim Henry (chairman of the NWGRC economic development committee) says it best: If you don’t know what you don’t know, how do you find out what you don’t know?”
Steiner said the Small Business Administration defines a small business as one with 500 employees or less, but he thinks the region will do better in the long run by encouraging its Henry Fords and Mary Kays.
“The true vision is finding the one person who starts it,” he said. “Big industry is not bad, but I’d rather have 100 businesses that employ 10 each than one that employs 1,000. The chenille bedspread makers of 100 years ago led to a major cluster we have today — the flooring industry.”