2013 Economic Yearbook: Central
A Regional Approach
As the bad economy continues to recede in Georgia’s rearview mirror, a new word is cropping up on the lips of economic developers around the state: Regionalism. People are banding together, forming coalitions and organizations that are encouraging neighboring counties to look out for one another – rather than compete – and to think big for the future.
“Counties’ resources are stretched, and they understand that by partnering with a neighboring county, or even counties in the region, that they can have a bigger impact in economic development,” says Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Devel-opment Commission. “A lot of people understand that if we are just able to increase the awareness of the Middle Georgia region, that it will benefit all of us.”
To that end, the Middle Georgia Economic Alliance, comprising 11 counties in the region, is coming back online. “It’s been around for a while, but it’s kind of been dormant,” Topping says. “Now we’re trying to kick it back up again, because we see a lot of activity starting so we’re reenergizing it.”
“Rather than the counties fighting amongst themselves about who’s going to get what industry, it’s more of a regional approach,” says Bob Hughes, president and economic development director of the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce. “It is more ignoring county lines as much as anything else, and looking at it from an economic perspective.”
Counties along I-16 are also working with the Ports Authority of Georgia on the I-16 Corridor Alliance. Made up of 12 counties edging the interstate, including Bibb, Twiggs, Wilkinson, Bleckley and Laurens, the alliance seeks to market communities to manufacturing industries interested in locating between Atlanta’s international airport and the Port of Savannah.
“Hopefully it will open up more looks for [these] counties,” says Cal Wray, president of the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority, who is also chair of the group.
One county already benefiting is Twiggs, where Academy Sports + Out-doors expanded its existing operation by 500,000 square feet in Jeffersonville, creating 250 jobs.
“It’s great for their community,” Wray says. “Throughout the corridor, you can see that [happening]. Eventually, you will see distribution move farther up the corridor as the port gets deepened and as you have more activity and traffic through the port, giving more communities more of a chance to create those jobs.”
In Morgan and Jasper counties, officials are still celebrating the announcement that Baxter International will locate at the Stanton Springs business park – the result of a group effort with Newton and Walton counties. The region is now hoping to draw similar companies to the area.
“Our purpose is to market I-20 as a biosciences corridor,” says David Dyer, executive director of the Development Authority of Jasper County, “building it out from Stanton Springs with the biolife sciences industries extending west to Atlanta and east to Augusta.”
The move toward a broader view is evident not just in the larger cities of the region, but also in the more rural areas.
“Because we’re in a rural area and we’re small communities, the only way we can have a major impact is if we all put our dollars together,” says Roddie Anne Blackwell, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
Several counties have partnered to purchase land or market industrial parks. The Joint Development Authority of Ben Hill and Irwin Counties continues to market the 214-acre Millennium Technology Pointe.
“Our regional efforts with Lamar and Butts counties on the Riverview Business Park has netted us several prospects,” says Missy Kendrick, executive director of the Barnesville-Lamar County Industrial Development Au-thority. “I think it’s going to produce a positive outcome for us.”
Others are working to help businesses grow and expand. Montgomery County has partnered with Southeastern Technical College and neighboring counties on the Tri-County Regional Entre-preneur Support Team (Tri-CREST), which provides advisory services for existing and startup businesses.
“Our role is to help small business people start their businesses by providing them with assistance, knowing where they need to go to borrow money or how to put a good business plan together,” says Joe Filippone, executive director of the Montgomery County Development Authority, who is on the organization’s board.
Pulaski Rivers Alive was created to help clean up the Ocmulgee River, which skirts Hawkinsville. Out of that effort has grown the Ocmulgee Blueway, a partnership with Houston, Twiggs and Bleckley counties that is researching ways to beautify the river and encourage tourism along its banks.
Triumph Aerostructures-Vought Air-craft Division is expanding its Milledge-ville facility, adding 250 jobs by the end of 2014 and representing a $36.6-million investment.
In Putnam County, activity continues at the 135-acre Rock Eagle Technology and Science Park, which will be completed this spring. In Lamar County, Jordan Forest Products is expanding into a new 45,000-square-foot facility, adding 50 new jobs.
Jasper County celebrated the groundbreaking for Norton Packaging, with 90 jobs.
Tractor Supply is moving into a 690,000-square-foot regional distribution center that will net Bibb County 200 new jobs. Two other companies, Trimex Group and Volunteer Pastilles, both expanded, adding a total of 30 jobs and a $5 million investment.
Laurens County stayed busy this year: Green Power Solutions opened a $95-million plant that will bring 35 jobs. Best Buy’s distribution center expanded, investing $5 million and creating 20 jobs. And Dinex Group opened its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Dublin, a $15-million facility creating 250 jobs.
“Overall last year, we had 21 new and expanding companies, 612 new jobs created and $260 million in investment,” says Dublin-Lauren’s Wray. “The relationships we’ve really worked to establish and create are really starting to create dividends.”
In Dodge County, the FAA has granted the Aviation Campus in Eastman approval to fly and test the TwinStar II UAV on a site near the Heart of Georgia Regional Airport. Hudson Pecan recently renovated and expanded its operations in Irwin County.
Jimmy Davis, executive director of both the Macon County Development Authority and the Macon County Chamber of Commerce, says he’s been fielding interest but nothing is set in stone yet.
“There’s been a lot of movement, but no definite decisions made,” he says, adding that the county is considering consolidating services with the city of Montezuma. “Everything’s off to a slow start, but it will pick up speed now.”
In Montgomery County, a 20,000-square-foot Fred’s Variety Store opened, and Mount Vernon is getting started on a streetscape project. The county’s prognosis is a good one, Filippone says. “In times like this, smaller counties have a little bit of an advantage because the cost of doing business is a little bit lower.”
Ocilla is seeing more interest in its downtown as well. “We’ve had so many restaurants open, and the good thing is, they’re locally owned,” says Hazel McCranie, president of the Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce. “Now, Wed-nesday night through Saturday night in our downtown, it’s hard to find a parking place.”
In Peach County, Blue Bird sold 432 propane autogas buses to Student Transportation Inc. for use in Omaha, Neb. It’s the biggest single order to date for the Fort Valley company’s emission-reducing Vision buses.
The county is also working with Macon’s Central Georgia Technical College to build a workforce development center that will offer a commercial driver’s license program. The $3.5-million, 18,000-square-foot facility will accommodate 400 to 500 students.
“Georgia needs 16,400 professional drivers,” says Charles Sims, director of the Development Authority of Peach County. “So that would be a tremendous opportunity for young people who want to get into a very high-paying job.”
In Houston County, Perry Hospital is undergoing a $2.8-million expansion, and Hollingsworth & Vose recently added a line to its manufacturing capacity in Pulaski County.
In Hawkinsville, the 26-unit Cotton Mill Lofts and a community market is bringing interest downtown. The city used a $650,000 federal HUD grant to help build and market the property. “We’re a smaller community, but what we’ve done, we’re doing right,” says Lee Slade, president of United Pulaski, a public-private economic development partnership. “We’re an Archway Part-nership, we’re Entrepreneur Friendly, we’re Workforce Ready. We’ve done what we needed to do to market ourselves, and it’s paid off.”