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2013 Economic Yearbook: Southeast

The Benefits Of Diversity

 

If there’s a word that best describes economic development in Southeast Georgia, it would have to be “diversity.” The region is perhaps best known for the major ports in Savannah and Brunswick, but the economy incorporates a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, hospitality, timber, aerospace, transportation logistics and the military.

“We are fortunate to have lots of industry and economic diversification in our region,” says John Riddle, president and CEO of the Wayne County Cham-ber of Commerce & Econom-ic Development. “There are a lot of natural resources here, and our proximity to the Savan-nah and Brunswick ports is a big advantage.”

Due to Wayne County’s location in what Riddle calls the “fiber belt,” pulp and pellet manufacturing are the biggest industries in the county. He says pulp manufacturer Rayonier, the county’s largest employer, is investing $300 million to retrofit its plant and convert it to 100 percent specialty pulp manufacturing. “These upgrades will prepare the plant for another generation of workers.”

Riddle is also excited about the recent move of Clyde Bergemann Power Group, a German-based manufacturer of highly technical components for electrical power plants and the pulp and paper industry, into a 125,000-square-foot building in Jesup that was formerly occupied by a propane tank manufacturer. “This plant will eventually create up to 150 advanced manufacturing jobs.”

Waycross is home to the largest wood pellet plant in North America, which is owned and operated by Georgia Biomass. Waycross-Ware County Development Authority and Okefenokee Area Development Au-thority Executive Director Bob Here-ford says the plant represents a $160-million investment by the company and employs nearly 100 workers. “It’s a good fit for Ware County and has been a major success for our region.”

Meanwhile, Hereford says the county is putting together economic incentives to attract companies that ship by rail to take advantage of the CSX switching hub located in Waycross – the largest shipping yard on the east coast. “Any rail that runs north or south goes through Waycross, so this is a great resource for us.”

In Hinesville, Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley says most of the area’s employment growth has come from manufacturing. “This obviously hasn’t been the case in many other parts of the country.” He notes that the Hinesville-Fort Stewart MSA ranks number four out of 372 MSAs in the U.S. in employment growth rate (6 percent) between 2007, right before the recession started, and 2011, adding 1,100 new jobs during this time. Only 54 MSAs nationwide have seen positive job growth during this timespan, Tolley notes.

“2012 was a good year for us,” says Tolley, noting that Liberty County was listed among the top 100 locations in the U.S. by Area Development magazine and one of the top 10 manufacturing locations in the south by Southern Business & Development magazine. “Fort Stewart continues to have the largest economic impact on our area, but employment continues to increase in the manufacturing and industrial sectors and we’re pleased with this trend.”

The county’s tagline, “Come Grow Globally,” was also evident last year as global companies helped fuel local growth and progress. According to Liberty County Development Authority Director of Marketing & Research Anna Chafin, businesses in Liberty County export to more than 70 countries, and 75 percent of the county’s employment is tied to companies located abroad.

British-owned Firth Rixon, which provides components for the aerospace industry, broke ground last year on an expansion of its forged metal operation that will result in a 50 percent increase in employment to more than 300; French-owned chemical manufacturer SNF FloQuip is expanding and adding 50 new jobs over the next five years; and German-owned Hugo Boss is doubling the size of its distribution center to 330,000 square feet and adding 75 employees.

Of course, the ports in Savannah and Brunswick are keys to the ability of these businesses to operate internationally. The top priority in Savannah is the proposed project to deepen the harbor to accommodate larger ships and continue to allow an increased volume of trade in and out of the port, says Economic Development Director for the Coastal Regional Commission (CRC) Don Masisak. “All 10 counties that are represented within the CRC are preparing for the positive impact of this project, including two that are preparing for inland port projects.”

“The harbor deepening project will be a game-changer,” says Savannah Eco-nomic Development Authority (SEDA) interim President and CEO Trip Tolli-son. “Everything is trending toward larger ships now – without a deeper channel, ships will call on other ports that have the capacity.”

Tollison says that the final permits and sign-offs needed to proceed were acquired in October, and the $650-million project is now awaiting delivery of the federal share of funding – about $450 million. Gov. Nathan Deal included the state’s final installment of $50 million in his budget. Assuming that the federal funding comes through, the project should begin in early 2014 and be completed in 2016. Masisak says the project is projected to add 20,000 jobs to the Coastal Regional Commission area over the next 10 years.

Another big success story in Savannah is business jet manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace, which is one of the largest manufacturers in Georgia. In January, Gulfstream announced that it will house more than 400 professionals (100 of them new employees) in a new Information Technology Center of Excellence in Savannah. In 2010, the company announced a seven-year, $500-million Savannah expansion that will include hiring 1,000 new employees – although it has actually hired nearly 1,700, bringing its total Georgia employment to almost 8,600.

Tollison says that SEDA is continuing to work with the state in marketing the 1,500-acre megasite at the corner of I-16 and I-95 in Pooler. Mitsubishi Power Systems currently employs 350 workers in its advanced manufacturing facility at the site. “We spent the second half of 2012 identifying which countries the World Trade Center (WTC) Savan-nah would target this year, settling on the UK, Brazil, Germany, Japan and Canada.”

WTC Savannah is focused on helping regional businesses grow internationally, identifying more foreign direct investment opportunities for the region and generating revenue to support these activities.

According to Woody Woodside, president of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, volume continues to grow at the Port of Brunswick as well. “This makes it imperative that we maintain the channel’s 36-foot depth. We’re also enhancing our railroad infrastructure so goods shipped into and out of the port can be moved more efficiently.”

Things are also looking up out on the Golden Isles’ barrier islands – St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea Islands – which Woodside calls “the state’s playground.” Renovations to the Jekyll Island convention facilities have been completed, and ground has broken on two new adjacent hotels. “And Sea Island continues to rebound under new ownership and is drawing visitors back. It will host the first PGA tour event of the 2014 season in November, which will be a FedEx Cup event.”

South of Brunswick lies Georgia’s third seaport at St. Mary’s, home to the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. “We’re currently working with Kings Bay on a joint land use study funded   by a grant from the Department of Defense that will create a blueprint for success on both sides of the fence,” says David Keating, executive director of the Camden County Joint Development Authority.

Farther inland, he points to a planned large tourism and retail entertainment project on I-95 in Kingsland just before the Georgia-Florida state line, which would employ 800 when it opens in 2014. In addition, a new technical college facility will soon break ground just off I-95. “We’re also exploring developing a unique new site in Camden County where NASA rockets were tested to potentially become Georgia’s first space port.”

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