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2013 Economic Yearbook: Northeast

Reeling In A Big One

 

The new $200-million Caterpillar manufacturing facility near Athens has set in motion economic development opportunities that could spread like the wings of a butterfly throughout Northeast Georgia.

The 265-acre property in Bogart straddles Clarke and Oconee counties, and nearby counties are clamoring to attract an estimated 25 to 30 suppliers and vendors to support the plant’s production of mini-hydraulic excavators and small tractors. Caterpillar, which is expected to move into the building this spring, will employ 1,400 people by 2020; a projected 2,800 supply-chain related jobs will be created. Economic impact has been estimated at up to $2.4 billion per year.

“This is going to have a lasting and overall effect on this entire region,” says Peggy Chapman, president and CEO of the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Founda-tion. “All I can do is judge by what Kia did in LaGrange. Some of the suppliers they brought in had 600 or 700 jobs. The potential for bringing in large industry is still there.”

Rusty Haygood, economic development director for Oco-nee County, announced his first supplier in early January. In-dustrial Finishing Specialists in Watkinsville will offer painting and paint removal. “Initially, it’s going to be 15 or 20 jobs,” Haygood says, “but they’ve got a lot of potential to grow.”

Because Caterpillar will phase in different lines in the next few years, “it will be a staggered approach,” Hay-good says. “It’s not as if all the suppliers will be looking to descend on the area at one time.”

An existing Caterpillar plant in Toccoa, which produces the metal seals, announced a $20-million, 44,000-square-foot addition and about 50 new jobs in 2012. “We were extraordinarily proud,” says Tim Martin, executive director of the Stephens County Development Authority.

With competition sure to be fierce for new Caterpillar suppliers, burgeoning broadband capabilities could help generate a region-wide metamorphosis. The $42-million North Georgia Network was completed last Novem-ber, and the smaller Northeast Georgia Network goes live this year with its first leg.

“While there was some availability of broadband, this will help level the playing field,” Martin says. The North-east Georgia Network eventually will be a 150-mile loop through six counties (Hart, Franklin, Stephens, Banks, Rabun and Habersham).

Dwayne A. Dye, director of economic development for the Hart County Industrial Building Authority, says the network “is really going to be a huge asset for us in attracting technically based businesses and companies that need a lot of computing power.”

In Habersham County, “We’re thinking about using that capacity to turn our existing industrial park into a technology park,” says J.R. Charles, executive director of the Habersham County Economic Development Au-thority.

The county would then find a new site, “one of those big 300- to 400-acre industrial parks,” Charles says, “so we can really land the top projects.”

The Northeast Georgia Network received a $1-million OneGeorgia equity grant to go towards the $10-million project. The project will connect with the North Georgia Network, which serves the counties of Dawson, Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union and White with 260 miles of high-speed fiber-optic Inter-net service.

“We’re achieving capacities and speeds that frankly rival just about any-thing on the Eastern seaboard,” Mitch Griggs, executive director of the Union County Development Authority, says of the network, which was infused with federal stimulus funds. “We can drop 10 gigs on a business at the drop of a hat without any new construction required.”

Griggs says the next steps are marketing the availability of this network to the world at large and educating existing business on how to utilize it.

Jackson County already has the tools to recruit both international and Georgia-based companies. “Probably out of 26 active projects we have, half of them are Asian companies,” says Courtney Bernardi, director of economic development at Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, children’s apparel manufacturer Carter’s located a multi-channel distribution center in Braselton. The deal will eventually mean 1,000 jobs and $50 million in investment.

Two German companies have moved into Elbert County since 2010, MöllerTech and Hailo USA. “We have a lot of metal working experience here, and we have plastics,” says Anna Grant Jones, executive director of the Development Authority of Elbert County, Elberton and Bowman. She credits the local campus of Athens Technical College with providing great workforce training, including a welding lab that opened in January. “Everywhere you go, people always talk about a shortage of welders.”

German hydraulic systems manufacturer Lupold opened a subsidiary in Hall County in August 2012, with plans for 60 employees, and German automotive parts manufacturer Kautex Textron announced an expansion in November that could add 100 jobs in Franklin County. Japanese company Kubota continues to expand in Northeast Georgia.

Hall County is capitalizing on growth by developing road, water and sewer infrastructure for the new 520-acre Gateway Industrial Centre.

The health industry continues to flourish in Northeast Georgia. With its opening in July 2012, the Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center in Lavonia became “an economic engine of the region,” says Heather Feldman, director of economic development at Georgia Mountains Regional Commis-sion. The $90-million investment also includes a medical office building to accommodate related businesses, such as that seen in Oconee County on the Highway 316 corridor. “Medical offices have been opening quite rapidly over the last 12 to 24 months,” Haygood says.

The Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Braselton, on the River Place campus, will be a 100-bed facility expected to open in spring 2015 and bring 570 jobs.

Ethicon Inc., a medical company, announced in September that it will add a 100,000-square-foot facility in Athens, creating 75 jobs through 2016. The Johnson & Johnson subsidiary will also make improvements at its Cornelia site for a total investment of about $185 million.

In addition to hospitals and medical providers, Northeast Georgia is in-creasing senior services, including living facilities. The Oakview Crossing development in Hart County will be a $40-million investment bringing 130 jobs.

Dye says the Lake Hartwell area has seen an influx of retirees who originally moved from the Northeast to Florida. “You call them the halfbacks,” he says. “They go to Florida, and it’s hot and sticky. They want to live in an area that has four distinct seasons, but yet doesn’t get a lot of the bitter cold.”

Where medical centers go, retail follows. A J Peters Grill & Bar in Lavonia, opening this year, “will offer us a different level of restaurant opportunity that we haven’t had here,” says Lyn Brumby Allen, director of economic development for the Franklin County Industrial Building Authority. A new Hampton Inn will provide proximity to the Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center.

Retail is booming in Oconee County, where a 485,000-square-foot retail center has broken ground. Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville, one of the oldest in the state, is undergoing a major redevelopment, with its big coup a Dick’s Sport-ing Goods.

In addition, Hall County is developing another half-million square feet of retail at New Holland Market in Gainesville. “When people come here for the medical center, they often wind up staying for dinner,” says Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown Athens is “growing in leaps and bounds,” Chapman says, with projects like the $24-million renovation and expansion of the Classic Center and a proposed $80-million mixed-use project southeast of downtown.

Promoting local food networks and regional food hubs is a priority of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commis-sion, says Burke Walker, director of planning and government services. Union County has opened a new cannery.

Danny Lewis, executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Com-mission, cites King’s Hawaiian Bakery, which became fully operational in Oakwood in 2012 and could eventually expand to 250 to 260 workers, as an example of the diverse manufacturing in the area.

“Every time I go through Kroger, I say, ‘Do y’all know that bread’s made in Gainesville, Georgia?’” he says. “It’s a totally different market for us than building lawnmowers and tractors.”

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