East Central: Working Together

A Move Toward Regionalism

With a little collaboration and a willingness to think outside the box, many counties in east central Georgia registered an economic boost in 2007.

Five neighboring counties – Lincoln, Warren, Wilkes, McDuffie and Columbia – have come together to promote economic development and create jobs for all participants. The Clarks Hill Partnership of Georgia picked up steam in 2007, encouraging industrial development, marketing area tourism and developing new tourist attractions, supporting recreational opportunities, and expanding and upgrading infrastructure.

“We have a lot of things [through the partnership] that bring in tourism money,” says Forward McDuffie Executive Director Mike Carrington. “We’ve gone in together in the last year and had several high-end bass tournaments, where professional folks filled up every motel in Thomson, Washington and Augusta.”

Lincoln County partnered with Clarks Hill Lake and the CVB to bring the national Bassmaster Tournament’s Elite Series to the county, notes Alana Burke, executive director for the development authority. More than 250 anglers participated in the tournament. The Georgia Department of Economic Deve-lopment also designated the county an Entrepreneur Friendly Community, which helps to create and encourage small business strategy into the community’s overall economic development plan.

The partnership’s counties also saw several new businesses and industrial parks come online. The Stone Industrial Park in McDuffie County completed sewer infrastructure, and a spec building will soon be on the market. Acclaim Lighting is moving into a 65,000-square-foot building in 2008, bringing an initial 14 jobs that could grow to 25. Thomson is in the midst of a half-million-dollar streetscape program, and the county is in the process of purchasing additional land to build a new city/county courtroom complex downtown.

In Columbia County, heavy construction equipment sales and servicing company Metrac is opening in the Horizon North Industrial Park. Appling also is experiencing a growth spurt with new restaurant and retail openings.

“Our community is experiencing a tremendous amount of commercial growth,” says Zack Daffin, executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County. “We continue to enjoy a strong and vibrant industrial base. The majority of our companies have grown, either through employees or in production.”

Calloway Farms Manufac-turing, which makes wood shavings for the equine market, is opening in Wilkes County, bringing an initial 30 jobs and potentially up to 50. Several retail stores have opened in Washington, and more lofts are for sale in the downtown area.

“We’re starting to see some of that growth from being halfway between Augusta and Athens,” says David Jenkins, director of economic development for Wilkes County.

Part of that growth is expansion and transformation of the Pope Center as a high-tech conference and videoconference facility. The county is partnering with Athens to bring in additional conferences and conventions.

In Warren County, American Grain Holdings purchased three acres of land and will initially provide five new jobs. The Warrenton Depot is being rehabilitated and will house a welcome center and museum along with chamber, downtown development authority and Better Hometown offices when it opens this year. The county also hired an events coordinator to increase the number of art shows, 5K runs and festivals to attract more tourists.

“Everything in downtown Warrenton is just clicking right along,” says O.B. McCorkle with the Chamber of Commerce & Development Authority.

Johnson County is also focusing on tourism, celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding this summer. Wrightsville’s $400,000 Transportation Enhancement Project is under way to upgrade sidewalks and lighting.

An additional 104 acres was added to Candler County’s industrial park, and the county’s airport recently expanded its runway to 5,000 feet to accommodate larger airplanes.

Several startup companies are considering a move to Jefferson County, with up to 21 jobs anticipated, and the county recently purchased a 650-acre rail-served industrial park. Louisville’s streetscape is about 40 percent complete, and Wadley is in the design stages of its own streetscape project.

The county also is collaborating with several neighboring counties to promote the region as an ideal location for the biofuel and life sciences industries.

Washington County welcomed Bennett Building Systems LLC to Tennille. The outdoor storage building manufacturer is constructing a 65,000-square-foot building on 22 acres of land and expects to employ 150. But the big announcement is that the Power4Georgians consortium, a group of not-for-profit and member-owned local power distribution companies, will be building a coal-fired power plant. The plant, which represents a $2 billion investment, will go through the permitting process over the next year and will eventually bring 120 employees to the county.

In November, Treutlen County celebrated the grand opening of Range Fuels, a Colorado-based company that converts biomass into renewable, sustainable and eco-friendly fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol. The company is bringing an initial 70 jobs and a $200 million capital investment to the community. (Editor’s note: See biofuel story on page 22.) United Rentals will open in an industrial park close to the construction site with 250 employees.

Vertex relocated to North Carolina, taking 25 jobs, but downtown activity in Soperton more than made up for the loss. Soperton saw five ribbon cuttings in one day, with several new restaurants and retail stores opening up within the past year.

In Emanuel County, pharmaceutical call center PharmaCentra LLC is expanding with 50 new jobs. The county recently purchased 580 acres on I-16 and U.S. 1 for a new industrial park.

The National Nano Manufacturing Center hosted the first Nano Valley Consortium in October. More than 80 nationally known companies came to Swainsboro for the event, which aims to provide an environment for commercializing nano research for both military and commercial markets.

In Augusta, Evergreen Recycling brought a $20 million investment and 100 employees to Richmond County. Several smaller companies brought a total of 40 employees and $7 million worth of investment. Equity Residential expanded by 60 jobs, and Walton Rehab underwent a $13 million expansion and added 20 new employees.

Also moving forward is The Watermark on the Riverwalk, a new luxury development on the Savannah River that includes condominiums and a 60,000-square-foot office building. Investors have recently purchased the five-story J.B. White Department Store building in downtown Augusta and will be converting the second through fifth floors into condominiums, with street level retail.

But perhaps the biggest news for Richmond County lies in the government sector. The National Security Agency announced it is setting up its headquarters in Augusta. The $340-million investment will bring 4,000 new jobs to the area.

Glascock County recently received a OneGeorgia grant to secure a 140-acre industrial park. Along with a new senior citizens center, the Peoples House – which now houses a welcome center and offices for the county commissioners, historical society and development authority – and the Glascock County Courthouse were recently rehabilitated and both received a Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation award for the efforts.

“It’s tough when you’re a small county, but we’ve had three large projects going on,” says Anthony Griswell, county commission chair. “In the past year, we’ve wrapped up a lot of loose ends.”

In Burke County, the Fleet-guard/Cummins diesel engine factory closed, eliminating 240 jobs. However, ASTA glazing company moved to the county, bringing an initial 100 jobs. The Burke County Industrial Park still is moving forward, with grading to its spec site to commence in 2008.

Jenkins County weathered some bad news this year. The county saw Jockey Internation-al, M.I. Windows and Doors, and a Cavalier Home Builders plant shutter doors. On the bright side, the county is a pilot community for the Georgia Work Ready Program, an initiative that helps create a regional talent pool to target existing industries and increase economic development opportunities. Jenkins also received an Entre-preneur Friendly designation from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Bulloch County saw a marked increase in retail and restaurants opening in and around Statesboro this year, including two new hotels, downtown lofts and a martini bar.

“Having the arts center in the downtown area with so much activity going on has really helped create this opportunity to open up new businesses that are thriving in the downtown area,” says Peggy Chapman, president of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber.

Glass manufacturer Viacon will be increasing its employees by 100, in part because of a contract for New York City’s Freedom Tower. FedEx Ground will be moving into the Gateway Regional Industrial Park in 2008.

Two residential developments totaling 600 acres are currently under construction on Lake Sinclair in Hancock County. Building supply store Hallman Wood Products is opening a distribution center, and a car dealership is coming to Sparta this year.

“All in all, compared to where we’ve been in the past, things are looking OK,” says Samuel Duggan, Hancock county commissioner. “We’ve still got a big job ahead of us.”

In Taliaferro County, Deer Lick Astronomy Village is gearing up for phase two. Located in Sharon, the 96-acre planned community catering to amateur and professional astronomers has been so popular, the 17 two-acre plots have sold out earlier than expected. Its annual fall stargazing festival attracted more than 300 participants eager for a clear view of the stars.

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