Clayton’s largest job-generating venture is a family affair

It was a job announcement so big that Gov. Nathan Deal, running for re-election and touting his administration’s role in overseeing Georgia’s recovery, wanted a piece of it.

On the Capitol steps, as he has stood alongside multinational corporations, Deal unveiled one Fulton County family’s plans to grow its business in a place in need of jobs. Standing at the governor’s side was Chime Solutions chief executive Shelly Wilson and her 23-year-old son Ryan, a Georgetown University law student. They announced the company’s plans for Clayton County, which will create 1,120 jobs.

Thus, the biggest jobs announcement in two decades came from a homegrown venture, started just across the county line.

With a fistful of tax incentives and an eye fixed on making a splash, the Wilsons plan to build Chime, their call center business that could also save a struggling mall and, Clayton leaders hope, serve as a catalyst for further economic development.

The jobs will start at roughly $10 an hour, so it’s not likely they’ll have the same impact as higher-wage work.

Still, some longtime southside business leaders hail the deal as a rare, unconventional move — one they hope catches on. Local communities across Georgia covet investment from large, multinational firms. But this announcement shows that significant job growth doesn’t have to come from Fortune 500 companies. It can also come from within.

“It’s unique. This is a great example of a new business leading the Atlanta region from south metro,” said Michael Hightower, managing partner of The Collaborative Firm, a land-use planning and development company in East Point. Hightower, who has tracked economic activity on the southside for 25 years, said the company is providing a “cutting edge” way for communities like Clayton to grow.

The Wilsons are no strangers to risk-taking.

Shelly Wilson and her husband Mark spent the better part of the new millennium building a reputation for hiring and training workers for large employers and running call centers that provide customer service and tech support. Ryla, their human resources outsourcing company, is named after their children Ryan and Lauren. The venture drew investors like former Wachovia Bank chairman and CEO Ed Crutchfield. It also paid off recently: the Cobb-based business sold for more than $70 million.

After the sale, Mark Wilson teamed with a group of investors, including basketball great Magic Johnson, to acquire an Atlanta background and employment screening firm called eVerifile.

Shelly Wilson, meanwhile, formed Chime three years ago in the family’s Fulton County home.

Among private companies Chime will be the single largest job-generator in Clayton in recent memory.

Chime translates to a gigantic shot in the arm for a county dealing with a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, according to the latest figures available. It’s the highest in the region. Chime’s presence at Southlake Mall also is expected to help revive it.

“Eleven hundred twenty jobs is significant no matter where you are,” said Grant Wainscott, director of Clayton’s Office of Economic Development and Film. “How it fits into the greater economic transformation of the county is more important.”

Clayton has seen more economic development activity — investments and expansions — in the last 18 months to 24 months than it has in the past decade, according to Wainscott.

One reason for the recent influx: uber-generous incentives. Chime will benefit from what Clayton is able to offer companies, which is better incentives than other counties in the region. Clayton is what’s known as a Tier 1 county, a designation it has had for two years. Tier 1 is a designation given to economically-disadvantaged counties. Clayton worked with state economic development officials to bring in Chime with mostly state incentives.

Under the deal, Chime would get the benefits of a $480,000 business-aid state grant. Additionally, Chime is eligible to get up to $4,000 per worker per year up to five years, which could translate into millions of dollars annually.

The incentives should pay off for the county.

The Chime deal should generate some $87 million in sales for Clayton as well as create another 297 indirect jobs, according to economist Jeff Humphreys who analyzed Chime’s economic impact on the county and state for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The money would come from Chime doing business with customers and suppliers and its workers spending money in the area, said Humphreys, director of economic forecasting at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

The state and other local governments stand to gain as well, he said as they collect about $5.6 million a year in tax revenues.

The incentives are only part of the reason the family chose to come to Clayton.

It’s considered home, and the Wilson’s children will become part of the business. And Shelly Wilson said Charm will be committed to helping its employees grow by offering range of personal finance seminars to help them with money management and career development.

“We’re trying to make an impact on people’s lives ,” Shelly Wilson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And create an environment that will have an impact not only on people’s professional careers but their personal well-being.”

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