2022 in review: Community moves forward but loses influential leaders

Dec. 30—Already one of Whitfield County's largest private employers, Hanwha Qcells announced plans to grow its workforce by 470. The solar module manufacturing plant located just south of Dalton has attracted attention from some of Georgia's top elected officials. The jobs announcement was just one of the top local stories of 2022, which also included the opening of new parks and recreation facilities and the deaths of some of Dalton's most influential residents.

Hanwha QcellsHanwha Qcells in May announced a $171 million investment near its solar module manufacturing plant in the Carbondale Business Park. The expansion is expected to create 470 jobs.

With more than 750 workers employed at the existing factory, total employment by Qcells at the Carbondale Business Park will exceed 1,000 when the expansion is complete. Construction on the expansion is underway, and the company has already begun hiring and training new employees.

The new facility will produce 1.4 gigawatts of solar modules each year. It will bring Qcells' total capacity in the U.S. to 3.1 gigawatts, which the company said is equivalent to one-third of America's solar module manufacturing capacity. The existing facility, which opened in 2019, produces 12,000 panels a day.

"Our additional investment in Dalton will help Qcells better serve the needs of U.S. customers with increased local manufacturing capacity," said Qcells CEO Justin Lee. "Georgia has become the clean energy manufacturing heart of America, and we are proud to contribute to the state's advanced manufacturing economy."

Qcells is now the sixth-largest employer in Whitfield County. The expansion will move it into fifth place.

Carl Campbell, executive director of the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority, said the new jobs "will start in the range of about $17 per hour and go up from there."

Qcells is one of the biggest solar module manufacturers in the world, claiming an estimated total annual production capacity of 12.4 gigawatts as of 2021. Its parent company Hanwha Group is among the largest business conglomerates in South Korea.

In a July visit to the site, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, lauded the company for its commitment to Georgia.

"This is about Georgia's national and global economic leadership," said Ossoff. "I'm grateful to Qcells, and I'm confident we can attract more investment to Georgia and establish Georgia as a leading site for manufacturing jobs, renewable energy and high-tech investment."

Soccer advances in DaltonFour FIFA-sized soccer fields opened in Dalton in 2022, giving local teams the opportunity to play on world-class fields and the area the ability to attract major tournaments. FIFA is the international governing body for soccer.

Completed in March, Dalton Stadium seats nearly 3,000 and is on the campus of The Dalton Academy and Dalton Junior High School. Both schools use the multi-use field, which is striped with football, soccer and lacrosse lines, for athletic events. The stadium, a joint project of the city of Dalton and Dalton Public Schools, is also the home of Dalton State College's men's and women's soccer teams. It hosted first and second round games in the NAIA Men's Soccer National Championship this year.

Riverbend Park opened at 1999 Riverbend Road off the south bypass near Southeast Whitfield High School in April. The park has a FIFA-size soccer field with permanent seating for 1,500.

There's a walking track around the field. The field also has portable seating for another 500-600 that can be moved to the park's other fields if needed.

The park has two soccer/football fields and four multipurpose fields.

It also has a 30,000-square-foot community center with two gyms, two community meeting rooms, team dressing rooms, staff offices, a walking trail around the top of the gym and a covered pavilion on the back side of the building.

Whitfield County commissioners bought the first 51 acres of the 75-acre park in 2015, during Mike Babb's second tenure as Board of Commissioners chairman. Its construction was funded with about $13 million from the county's share of the four-year, $66 million SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) approved by voters in 2020. The SPLOST is a 1% sales tax on most goods sold in the county.

The Northeast Community Soccer Complex at Dalton's Heritage Point Park opened in September. The city used about $7.075 million of its share of the 2020 SPLOST to build two FIFA-size soccer fields at Heritage Point Park.

Gratefull returnsMore than 1,700 people gathered in downtown Dalton on the Monday before Thanksgiving for Gratefull, a community Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey and dressing.

The event was organized by Believe Greater Dalton, a project of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce focused on six strategic areas to improve the community: educational outcomes, housing, entrepreneurship, economic development, downtown development and community pride.

It was the second time the group hosted the event. The inaugural Gratefull was in 2019. The event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Believe Greater Dalton organized food drives for local food banks those years instead.

Organizers blocked off Hamilton Street between Crawford Street and Gordon Street. Tables where volunteers served food donated by local restaurants — everything from turkey and dressing and roasted corn to tamales and black beans and a wide variety of desserts — were on one side of the street, and a long table for people to sit at was on the other side.

A community member brought the idea for Gratefull to Believe Greater Dalton in 2018, based on an annual community dinner in Chattanooga. Several people active with Believe Greater Dalton and other community organizations volunteered at the Chattanooga dinner in 2018 to get a feel for what it takes to put on an event like this and decided they would like to try it here.

The goal of Gratefull is to bring the community together and help Dalton residents make new acquaintances, and the event drew a diverse group of people.

Almost 200 volunteers served food, kept the line running, helped people find a seat and cleaned up afterward.

Adding to Whitfield County's Civil War historyRocky Face Ridge Park "is exactly how" the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program "is supposed to work," said Chris Welton, a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Battlefield Trust, which works to protect and preserve Civil War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields.

Welton spoke in July at the grand opening of the park off Crow Valley Road.

The American Battlefield Trust, formerly the Civil War Trust, and the American Battlefield Protection Program provided funding for Whitfield County to acquire parts of the 1,000-acre site of the park, which contains numerous Civil War fortifications and was the site of two Civil War battles.

In addition to Civil War history, the park contains a hiking trail to the top of the ridge, a cross country trail around the park and about 10 miles of a mountain bike trail that circles the ridge.

Representatives of the Northwest Georgia chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) helped design the mountain bike trail and provided $75,000 for its construction. The county received a $200,000 grant from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to build the trail.

Of the $3.4 million it cost to acquire the land and create the park, just $600,000 came from Whitfield County taxpayers.

Business competition returnsIn May, Dalton's Silicone Rubber Seat Cushion took first place at the third PitchDIA contest at the Wink Theatre in downtown Dalton. Made from a proprietary silicone blend, the cushion not only provides comfortable seating but promises to help a person's posture.

The PitchDIA contest is based on the popular television show "Shark Tank." Entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to business leaders who choose the winner. The first contest was in 2018, and the second in 2019. PitchDIA was not held in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community lossesHayden Wagers, a member of the Georgia Coaches Hall of Fame and National Golf Coach of the Year in 1990, passed away in February.

A graduate of Dalton High School, Wagers received a football scholarship to the University of Chattanooga, where he earned a bachelor's degree in education. Wagers worked for six years as a police officer and served as a military police officer in the U.S. Army.

He coached Dalton High golf teams to six state championships and also served as an assistant football coach.

Dalton media personality Jane Harrell passed away in May. Many people knew her voice from her "Southern Scenes" and community calendar segments on local radio or her name from the stories she wrote for the Dalton Daily Citizen and Dalton magazine or her face from the TV show she hosted on the local cable system. Others worked with her on the boards of the Prater's Mill Foundation or the Creative Arts Guild or almost a dozen other local organizations.

Dorothy "Dot" McCrory passed away in May. She spent 44 years in education. She was a teacher and counselor at Dalton High School for 27 years and the GED (General Educational Development) administrator at Dalton State College for 10 years.

Dorothy "Dot" Brooks Reich passed away in May. Starting as a Red Cross volunteer at Hamilton Medical Center in 1962, Reich spent more than 50 years as an advocate and supporter of Hamilton Health Care System. She spent almost two decades on the board of the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation, Hamilton's fundraising arm, and 10 years on the board of Hamilton Health Care System.

Judge Robert Luke Vining Jr. passed away in September. Vining, a native of Murray County, served both as a judge in the Conasauga Judicial Circuit (Whitfield and Murray counties) and as a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Georgia.

W. Norris Little Sr. passed away in October. Born in Marshville, North Carolina, Little attended the University of North Carolina for three years and graduated from Georgia State University. He worked for several years in the woven carpet industry before he was recruited to Dalton and the tufted carpet industry by Coronet Industries in 1961 as controller. He later served as executive vice president and a member of the board.

Little began his career at Shaw Industries in 1975 and quickly climbed up the corporate ladder, serving in numerous roles for the company including vice chairman and president and chief operating officer.

More recently, Little served as a shareholder in and consultant to Engineered Floors.

Former Dalton City Council member Edward Trammel Scott passed away in October. Scott graduated from Dalton High School, attended West Georgia College and served from 1950 to 1955 in the U.S. Navy. In 1961, he and his brother established AA Vending. Over the years he served on the boards of the Salvation Army and Wachovia Bank and served as chairman of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Dalton Rotary Club, in which he was active until his death.

Aquatics center plans finalizedDalton officials finalized plans in 2022 for an aquatics center to be built next to the Dalton Convention Center.

The $23 million aquatics center will have a 50-meter, competition-sized swimming pool as well as a 25-yard by 25-yard multipurpose pool that can be used for physical therapy. The city will keep the outdoor pool at the John Davis Recreation Center.

The aquatics center is expected to include spectator seating for about 900 as well as a separate seating area with approximately 500 seats for swimmers. Officials have said the aquatics center will host swimming competitions for local schools as well as swimming classes and recreational swimming. City officials also hope it will host regional USA Swimming events.

Plans call for the competition pool to have a Myrtha stainless steel pool liner, which is said to create a very "fast pool."

The project is expected to start in the second quarter of 2023 and to be finished in late 2024 or early 2025.

Counsilman-Hunsaker, a national aquatics center planning and consulting firm, has been meeting with various groups looking at various uses, from hosting regional swim meets to physical therapy to recreational swimming and swim lessons.

New animal welfare lawIn May, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners approved a new law that more clearly defines what adequate care for a pet is.

Among the changes, the law formerly read:

—"Adequate food and water shall mean food and water which is sufficient in amount and appropriate for the particular type of animal to prevent starvation, dehydration or a significant risk to the animal's health from a lack of food or water."

The new law changed that to:

—"Adequate food and water shall mean unspoiled food and fresh water, which are in sufficient quantity and otherwise appropriate to the particular domesticated animal to maintain good health and hydration. Such food and water shall be placed within containers that are clean and otherwise free from contaminants or debris and shall be secured or weighted so as to prevent unintended spillage to the extent practicable."

The dog that got awayFor Danielle Poole, Dalton was supposed to be a brief stop on her drive from her home in Fox Lake, Illinois, to Florida.

But that brief stop turned into a three-week stay when her dog Leo escaped from a hotel room, and almost five months of thinking about Dalton every day until local searchers reunited Poole with Leo in March.

VFW closesDalton's Veterans of Foreign Wars George Edward Smith Post 4985 was founded in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, and named for U.S. Army 1st Lt. George Edward Smith, the first Whitfield County native killed in World War II.

But in recent years, membership had dwindled to about a half dozen, and the national VFW placed the post on probation and put its building at 618 Veterans Drive up for lease.