Southeast: Time For Planning

Protecting The Coast

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, the talk in southeast Georgia was all about residential development. Houses were going up faster than kudzu covers the ground and selling just as quickly.

Jump forward a year and the housing market has slowed through-out the area, just as it has in most of the country, but no one seems too concerned. People will continue to migrate to the area, as soon as they can sell their homes elsewhere. After all, as Bob Noble, executive director of the Camden County Joint Development Authority, says, “So far there’s no more coastal property.”

The housing market downturn has provided an opportunity to prepare for the growth that continues at a slower pace. Much of the planning is taking place on a regional, not county-by-county, level and will make use of the new Coastal Compre-hensive Plan.

Due to have been approved in February, the state-led plan will “try to make sure Georgia doesn’t have unguided growth,” says Vernon Martin, executive director of the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center. “I think it’s a positive thing. Some people see it as encroachment on home rule, but there’s got to be some organization to see that growth is done in such a way to protect the integrity of the coast,” while ensuring continued economic development.

Economic development centers on the expansion of the ports. New industrial parks are under construction, while older ones are receiving upgrades to entice distribution centers and other ports-related businesses to inland counties as well as coastal areas.

A study conducted about a year ago in Chatham County showed 15 new private industrial parks totaling 2,700 acres with 20 million square feet of warehouse/distribution space. In the last year an additional 5 million square feet of spec warehouse space was built or is now under construction, says Lynn Pitts, senior vice president of the Savannah Economic Development Author-ity. “These are very well fi-nanced developers. They buy, develop, lease and hold the space. They don’t sell it.”

Industrial developers wondering if there’s any land left in Chatham County can thank the housing slowdown for the rezoning of some residential land to commercial. In addition, Pitts anticipates a couple of new industrial parks with sites for sale in the next few months.

McIntosh County has recruited the U.S. Depart-ment of Agriculture as a partner in building an industrial park at Interstate 95 and Highway 25. “We’re going after distribution centers, of course,” says David Lyons, executive director of the McIntosh County Develop-ment Authority.

Glynn County’s industrial park is being up front about its quest for distribution centers with its new name, Pinecrest Logistics Park. Located on Interstate 95, the 687-acre park was so named because “distribution-oriented businesses in particular will find it a compelling location,” says Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Brunswick and Glynn County Development Authority. While Brunswick is not a container port, Sparks points out that it is not far from either the Savannah or Jacksonville ports, thus property on I-95 would appeal to distributors operating through either one.

Effingham County also is making its wishes known with the new logistics-based industrial park on Interstate 16 called LogistiCenter at Savannah. The park, to be developed in a partnership between the Effingham Economic Development Authority and D.P. Partners, will be approximately 1,750 acres, with nearly 6 million square feet of class “A” warehousing and distribution space, creating 2,500 to 5,000 jobs in the county, says John A. Henry, CEO of the Effingham Economic Development Authority and Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.

Also in 2007, EFACEC Groups, a Portuguese-based electrical component manufacturer, announced its decision to locate its U.S. manufacturing flagship in Effingham County. “The facility will create over 600 high tech, high wage jobs and represent a direct investment of over $100,000,000,” Henry says.

“We have joined with the investment group Inland Port System to market Waycross-Ware County Industrial Park as a distribution center,” says Regina Morgan, executive director of the Okefenokee Area Development Authority, which covers Ware and Pierce counties.

Liberty County’s Tradeport East Business Center is booming. Target opened a 1.5-million-square-foot regional distribution center employing more than 500 people there in August 2007, says Ron Tolley, CEO of the Liberty County Development Authority.

Target soon will have neighbors in the business center. IDI, a national real estate development firm, is constructing a 502,000-square-foot speculative building and preparing five building pads on 300 acres.

Last year, “the Douglas-Coffee County Development Authority began construction on Park West, a new industrial park,” says JoAnne Lewis, executive director of the Douglas-Coffee Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority. “During the groundbreaking event for the park, the Georgia Department of Labor an-nounced the construction of a 15,000-square-foot Regional Career Center at the entrance of Park West.”

Meanwhile, some businesses find what they need in a spec building. Premium Waters Inc., a bottled-water company, purchased a 200,000-square-foot spec building last year in Coffee County’s Southwest Industrial Park. The $42 million investment created more than 100 new jobs.

The Development Authority of Bryan County’s Inter-state Centre industrial park at Interstate 16 and U.S. Highway 280 started with 272 acres. Thanks in part to its convenient location, only 18.5 miles from the Port of Savannah, it is now 1,074 acres and still growing. The park’s second phase, Interstate Centre II, is a public-private partnership between the development authority and Atlanta developer TPA Realty Services LLC. Infrastructure construction was set to begin on the second phase by the end of 2007, says Jean Bacon, the development authority’s executive director.

The industrial park in Brantley County has two new tenants – Limtech, which processes lithium for use in lithium ion batteries, and Mobile, a concrete plant.

Toombs County was left with a vacant 200-acre industrial park, including 320,000 square feet in three buildings, when a manufacturing plant closed last year after being open only a short time. They’re targeting businesses out of the Port of Savannah to help fill it, says Bill Mitchell, executive director of the Toombs-Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and Develop-ment Authority.

Jeff Davis County has 300,000 square feet available in older buildings. “If you’re interested in making money, they’re just what you need,” says John F. Clifton, new executive director of the Joint Development Authority of Jeff Davis County.

The slowdown in the housing market hasn’t stopped residential development completely. In fact, one developer is literally racing to completion. The centerpiece of Victory Lane, the exclusive high-end development outside tiny (population around 300) Cobbtown, in Tattnall County, is a private 4.5-mile road course designed to entice motor-sports enthusiasts. The road course should be completed by summer 2008, at which time the company will begin purchase agreements on homesites.

“We have a reservation system now,” says Andrew Goggin, president of Unlimited Speed, developers of Victory Lane. “One-third of the lots are reserved.” The 3,000-acre development offers 122 residential lots, ranging in size from three to 30 acres, starting at $675,000.

The housing market downturn has led the timber industry, which continues to be a major economic driver in much of southeast Georgia, to develop new outlets; and the proximity to the ports has allowed Europe to become a destination for south Georgia manufactured fuel pellets in both Pierce and Appling counties.

Contender Boats of Appling County expects to roll out its first boats in spring 2008. The company anticipates hiring 150 employees by the end of this year and will have 500 employees within five years, once its relocation from Homestead, Fla., is complete.

Screven County is benefiting from the near completion of the Savannah River Parkway, a four-lane highway connecting Augusta to Savannah, which has brought several new retail businesses and the announcement of a new hotel to the area.

The privately owned D. Ray James Prison in Charlton County has just completed a $30 million investment to upgrade its facilities; and an upcoming $34 million expansion will increase the number of detainees the facility can accommodate from 1,600 to 4,000 by the end of 2009.

First String Space, in Atkinson County, manufactures mobile office units from a site formerly occupied by Fleetwood Homes, which closed in the 1990s at a loss of 150-200 jobs. First String Space is committed to hiring 51 employees its first year and anticipates making up those 150-200 jobs within the next couple of years.

The Brunswick port, which was deepened to 36 feet last year, is now home to Mercedes Benz, which announced in May that it would move its South Atlantic hub from the port at Jacksonville.

Gulfstream Aerospace opened Phase I of its new Savannah Service Center in 2007. The service center is part of a seven-year, $400 million long-range expansion plan for its Savannah facilities.

Last year Crescent Resources LLC purchased nearly 15,000 acres, which has been annexed into the city of Kingston, in Camden County, for a master-planned community called The Villages at Kingsland including residential, office and commercial facilities.

“Though small in size, we make up for it in energy and enthusiasm,” says Genie Lee, executive director of economic development for the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Center, about the region. “It’s a great place to do business.”

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