Northeast: Drawing On Tourism

A Focus On Small Business

Northeast Georgia’s burgeoning wine industry is a great fit for an area that relies on agriculture and tourism, and winemakers are eager to develop the potential.

“We need partners in the wine industry to make it grow and give the visitor a full experience in this part of Georgia,” says Steve Gibson, president of the Wine Growers Associa-tion of Georgia and of Haber-sham Winery, which is in White County. “Wine is good for economic development because it reaches so many other industries here.”

The wine industry has benefited from the recent drought, winemakers say, because vines are especially susceptible to rot and fungus and the dry conditions are keeping away the typical issues of a wet season for vineyards.

However, the industry was jolted by a late spring freeze in 2007. Gibson says it was the first time in 15 years he had to go out of state to buy grapes because of the damage to crops.

White County also is becoming a haven for residents who have moved out of Metro Atlanta and are able to do their jobs at home because of advancements in technology.

Tom O’Bryant, director of community and economic development for White County, says his office is now providing technical assistance for small businesses.

“We have begun to focus on small industry, people that need 1,000 to 5,000 square feet and we have found some success,” O’Bryant says. “While we still want to be considered for large businesses, we have made a shift to focus on small business.”

While most counties in northeast Georgia work on their niche, Hall County expands its economy in many different directions. Lake La-nier Islands is in the midst of a $300-million renovation. The city of Gainesville purchased 50 acres for a new park and aquatic center.

Known as the center of healthcare in northeast Geor-gia, Hall County will get a new $50-million Women’s and Children’s Pavilion in the Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Health System main campus in Gainesville.

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, says 25 expanded or new industries created 1,000 new jobs and $146 million in new capital investment in 2007.

Evans says ProCare RX, a pharmaceutical benefits processing company, is breaking ground in 2008 for a new campus in Gainesville along I-985; it will use 160 workers.

In Habersham County, Habersham Metal Products Company builds prison cells; and business is so good the county is constructing a building for Habersham that it will lease back to the company for five years.

The Habersham Industrial Park got a new tenant in 2007 when Miller Logistics moved in with 30 employees. The county finished work on a 24,000-square-foot building in the park that is ready for lease.

“We have room for three or four more companies, small ones, and that’s it,” says Ed Nichols, executive director of the Habersham County Cham-ber of Commerce.

The Georgia DOT gave final approval to Oglethorpe County for plans to rehabilitate its depot and park. The chamber of commerce will complete a design phase in 2008 and put the project out to bid.

Lumpkin County has done so well attracting business it’s out of land in its industrial park and looking for property. The next industrial park will have a new look. Bruce Abraham, executive director of the development authority, says buildings will have more brick fronts and heavier landscaping.

Abraham says Lumpkin County is partnering with Forsyth and Dawson counties to extend fiber-optic lines out Georgia 400 into the mountains. North Georgia College also is part of the initiative.

Franklin County didn’t wait for the natural migration of industrial real estate to come up I-85. The county went and found developers who have made the trek north from Gwinnett to Hall to Jackson counties.

Franklin, in partnership with John Rooker & Associates, completed the third building in its Gerrard Road Industrial Park in October 2007 and is marketing the 52,500-square-foot space. Two buildings have already sold in the park.

The county recently purchased another 20 acres across the street. “Industrial is moving our way and we are trying to be prepared for that,” says Lyn Allen of the Franklin County Industrial Authority.

Elbert County’s economic development team is marketing its most precious commodity: water. Lake Russell is a pump-back lake and the level, at the most, will drop just five feet making it virtually drought-resistant.

“It allows industry to look at us and be assured the lake is not going to dry up,” says Anna Grant Jones, executive director of the Joint Economic Development Authority of Elbert County and the towns of Elberton and Bowman.

In Jackson County Deutz AG, a German firm that manufactures diesel engines for construction and agricultural machinery, will open a new plant in 2008 employing 55. Even bigger news will come in 2009 when a 242-acre joint development project with Banks County comes online. The Pottery, which was in Banks County along I-85, closed in 2007 and the facility’s proposed redevelopment, which will be planned through 2008, will include 1 million square feet of retail.

Rabun County is still reeling from the loss of 932 jobs in 2006 when Fruit of the Loom pulled out of the manufacturing plant, Rabun Apparel. Employees have scattered, some getting picked up by the opening of a Wal-Mart, others moving to other counties.

Just as the county was getting back on its feet, a new threat emerged. Rabun is a popular second home market; but the housing downturn has severely curtailed new home starts.

“It is as slow as it has ever been with construction and the county has taken a big hit,” says Emory Brock, outgoing economic development director. “The one thing we have here, though, is a strong tourist economy.”

Oconee County’s backbone is small businesses; 85 percent of companies in the county have nine or fewer employees. That’s why the county is eagerly chasing the state’s Entrepreneur Friendly designation. Oconee also is working with Clarke, Barrow and Gwinnett to establish a bioscience cluster along the 316 corridor.

Dawson County is juggling its responsibilities to the community as it moves forward with economic development. The county wants a certain amount of retail, but it also understands the value of its greenspace.

Sembler is scheduled to break ground late this spring on a 1 million-square-foot development called the Dawson Marketplace, on Georgia 400 at Dawson Forest Road. The project could include three or four big box retail stores.

“Obviously we are trying to preserve quality of life with traffic, schools and greenspace, and at the same time we only have a few grocery stores and we have limited retail, which requires people to drive all the way to Cumming and Gainesville,” says Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County. “You have to balance the natural quality of the county with the desire to bring those services in.”

Auvermann says there was little debate about one business set to open this spring: a 24-hour emergency clinic.

In Greene County, visitors from Metro Atlanta are staying to buy homes. County commissioners voted in December to approve a conditional use permit for Del Webb to put in a 250-room hotel resort at Carey Station Road.

The welcome mat will soon be out for those flying in, as the Greene County Regional Airport runway is extended from 5,000 to 5,500 feet.

Fannin County continues to thrive on tourist dollars, but the county is making a push to diversify, says Kristin Gunia, economic development director. Fannin is attempting to purchase property for a new, light industrial park of 50 to 100 acres.

Towns County is awaiting April 26, when the finishing leg of the Tour de Georgia – and a host of tourists – arrive.

Erik Brinke, economic development director for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, which services five counties in north Georgia, says Towns’ Young Harris College is transitioning from a two-year school to a four-year school, which will add enrollment – and spending.

Also, a new fiber-optic network will cut into Towns from western North Carolina, providing a second high-speed internet carrier.

In neighboring Union Coun-ty, the Blairsville Airport Region-al Industrial Park is connected with fiber-optic lines providing state-of-the-art internet access. That’s a boon for new business Applewood Door & Window, which supplies the second-home market.

The county is in the process of completing a new airport access road to Route 515, which connects to I-575. Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris says a 40,000-square-foot building that will serve as a United Community Bank Operations/Training Center will be completed in spring, 2008 in the industrial park, which still has 125 acres of available sites.

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