Central: Location And Access

The Benefits Of Geography

In real estate, the battle cry is “location, location, location.” In central Georgia, officials looking to recruit industry are borrowing that mantra as they promote a region with access to interstate highways, ports and airports, as well as a relaxed lifestyle and a low cost of living.

From a cement plant in Perry to a candy company expansion in Eastman, central Georgia welcomed a slew of new industry in 2007, infusing jobs, money and hope for a healthy economy.

As a complement to large industrial growth, many communities added retail. A new drug store offers convenience for residents, and it serves as tangible evidence that a county is moving forward.

For example, Lamar County’s big news in 2007 was General Protecht’s development of a 200-acre site in Barnesville. The Chinese manufacturing company is scheduled to open the assembly and distribution facility in 2008, bringing 240 jobs. On the retail side, the county got 10 new restaurants as well as a Walgreens and an Ingles supermarket.

It’s no secret why central Georgia counties like Bibb and Houston are able to lure new industry. “It’s geography,” says Robbie Fountain, vice chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. “It’s the biggest thing we’ve got going for us.”

Macon also has the water-sewer capacity to support new industry. The industrial authority spent much of 2007 acquiring land for future growth, including three tracts totaling 300 acres.

“Big things will come,” Fountain says. Some already have. MBM Foodservices broke ground on an $8 million expansion of its distribution center, a move that will add 100 jobs. Nichiha USA invested $100 million and brought about 100 new jobs. Other recent industrial growth includes an expanded Macon Chips, a wood supply company.

In Houston County, an avalanche of announcements started in March 2007 with news that Houston American Cement would locate a new plant near Perry. Frito Lay said it would expand to add 80 fulltime positions, and Sy-Klone International, a manufacturer of air cleaning products, purchased a 35,000-square-foot building in Perry Industrial Park. Then, in December, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced a $21 million Go Fish Georgia Visitors Center, expected to welcome 100,000 guests a year.

In Laurens County, the development authority invested $150,000 in marketing the community as ideal for industry related to biofuels, light manufacturing, transportation, life sciences and natural resource production. “Our goal is to land multiple companies this year,” says Cal Wray, vice president of the Dublin-Laurens County Economic Development Authority.

The authority has a new website, logo and a strategic marketing plan that is targeting 400 companies. In talking to prospective companies, Wray can boast expansions in retail including a new Wal-Mart Supercenter with an adjacent strip mall. He can treat visiting business leaders to lunch at a new LongHorn Steakhouse. “Retail is thriving here,” he says. “Our push right now is industrial and distribution.”

In 2007, YKK AP America broke ground on an $80-million expansion of its architectural products plant that will bring about 300 jobs. About 15 percent of Laurens County residents leave their community for work, a trend Wray hopes to reverse with new industry.

In Dodge County, Stan-dard Candy Company, an institution since 1985 and maker of the GooGoo Cluster, expanded, bringing at least 70 new jobs. “It’s a statement as to what kind of business community you have when a plant has been in operation as long as they have,” says Josh Fenn, president of the Eastman-Dodge County Area Chamber of Commerce.

The year brought additional growth from Imperial Trailers, which committed to 50 jobs over three years. “We’re going full-throttle,” Fenn says. “We’re not reliant on any one industry; we’re diversified.”

In Morgan County, homes and golf courses are coming out of the ground around Lake Oconee, spurring retail growth and enhancing the area’s reputation as an idyllic small town. Tourism continues to thrive, and 2007 brought industry as well. Rema Tip Top took over an existing facility, bringing 35 jobs.

Baldwin County is seeing growth in downtown Milledgeville and along the county line bordering Lake Sinclair, an area that now has sewer capacity. Kroger and Walgreens are planning to open there, and a Starbucks is keeping the community caffeinated. County officials are working with their neighboring Wilkinson, to develop a regional industrial park to capitalize on the Fall Line Freeway. Meanwhile, Rath Refractories, a brick manufacturer, is planning to expand in 2008.

In Jones County, the development authority purchased a 972-acre industrial park with a rail line that runs along the northern boundary. Ethica Health and Retirement Communities established its headquarters, bringing 35 new jobs. A dialysis clinic opened, as did a Walgreens. A well-known medical practice is expected to relocate to the county.

“You want to recruit the right mix,” says Pam Chris-topher, executive director for the Jones County-Gray Cham-ber of Commerce and the Development Authority of Jones County, noting that a property management group is looking at a $20 million in-vestment in upscale specialty stores. “We are embracing our economy as a whole,” she says. “We want retail, and we have to bring industrial growth, too. We have to be strong in all those areas or we’ll be lacking as a community.”

Christopher reported no layoffs or business closings in 2007, a familiar refrain throughout central Georgia that is regarded by many as news just as worthy of celebration as a ribbon-cutting for a new store.

Roddie Anne Blackwell, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and project manager for the development authority, reiterates that point. Though the county saw no major industrial expansions in 2007, a new Sears and Radio Shack opened as did two new art galleries. IGA added a deli, a tiny move for the company, but a boon for the community.

The chamber is focusing on the community’s “artistic needs” as a project a decade in the making finally is completed. A 1913 schoolhouse was converted into an arts center, including a museum, a theater and classrooms where citizens can learn everything from painting to ceramics.

In Irwin County, a privately managed detention center that opened in 2005 began a $27-million construction project that will double its size. The move will create 90 new jobs and represents “the biggest boost we’ve had in years,” says Hazel McCranie, president of the Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce.

But McCranie is just as excited about a smaller new business: Harvey’s. For 16 years, she yearned for a grocery store, so she wouldn’t have to travel out of the county to stock her pantry. Finally, when Irwin’s population closed in on the 10,000 mark, Harvey’s stepped up.

Telfair County also got a grocery store in 2007, as well as some antiques and gift shops. The county is hoping to capitalize on Peaches to the Beaches, a widely publicized March shopping event that stretches from Perry to Brunswick. “People think some of us are crazy for getting excited about the little things in our community, but it’s a big deal,” says Paula Rogers, president of the chamber of commerce.

Rogers is encouraged that the Environmental Protec-tion Division is making progress on a property contaminated by a company that departed in 2001. Once the EPD finishes its cleanup, county officials plan to redevelop the site.

In Macon County, Kooler Ice, an ice vending machine company, expanded its operation, adding 35 employees. “When you’re a small county like us, every little thing counts,” says Jimmy Davis, president of the chamber of commerce and executive director of the development authority. As in many central Georgia counties, new jobs are helping to offset jobs lost over the past few years. “We’re back in the positive,” Davis says.

In Ben Hill County, several new businesses eased the sting of a downsizing that cost the community 500 jobs. An agribusiness company is building a new facility that will eventually employ about 85 people, and an alternative energy company is building a power plant that will employ 60. A technology company is looking to occupy space in the county’s technology park, which would bring a couple hundred jobs, says John Flythe, director of economic development for the Ben Hill-Fitzgerald Chamber of Commerce.

Peach County also reports growth, including a frontage road development that is expected to lure retail business. Situated close enough to Macon and Warner Robins to feel reverberations from their growth, the county is moving steadily, says Charles Sims, director of the development authority.

Mary Purcell, economic development director in Wilkinson County, cites this evidence her community is moving forward: She’s talking to Cracker Barrel about opening a restaurant. Construction of the Fall Line Freeway is driving the growth, she says. Alterra Bioenergy of Middle Georgia announced plans in 2006 to locate in a formerly hazardous site, and Ball’s Ferry Historical Park became a new Georgia state park.

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