Trend Radar January 2007

Business And Economic News From Around The State

Plant To Fuel Southwest Georgia Economy: The idea that the Southwest corner of the state is “Georgia’s New Economic Frontier” has been floated out by the region’s economic developers for a few years now. But what may have seemed hopeful boosterism could become fact when construction begins in March on a $170 million ethanol plant in rural Mitchell County.

“This is a big deal,” says Tony Slagg, CEO of First United Ethanol, LLC (FUEL), the company formed to produce the petroleum additive. “Twenty years ago, an ethanol plant typically produced about 10 million gallons annually. More recent plants produced about 40 million gallons annually. This plant will produce 100 million gallons of ethanol annually, and it will use more corn each year than all that is currently raised in the state of Georgia.”

Farmers and businessmen from 13 Southwest Georgia counties, as well as a number of out-of-state investors, are providing $70 million in seed money, with the balance coming from bonds and traditional lenders. Slagg says petroleum companies can sell fuel mixed with 10 percent ethanol to gain a competitive edge of a few cents a gallon, he says. Corn prices could improve for distributors as demand grows – and with it local production – which would reduce dependence on Midwest suppliers and attendant rail costs.

The end result could be more jobs, higher land prices and a dramatic transformation in the use of farmland. “At the turn of the [20th] century, 40 percent of our land was used to raise fuel – the corn and hay to feed the horses, mules and oxen that worked on the farms,” Slagg says. “But when [farming and transportation] became mechanized, all that land went into food production for human consumption.” Ethanol, he adds, “will change corn from a food stock to a fuel stock.”

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?: Atlanta millionaires are a dime a dozen these days. Claritas, a West Coast demographics research firm, lists the Metro Atlanta area as having 60,799 millionaires, comprising almost 3 percent of the region’s total households. Claritas’ forecasters say Atlanta will lead the nation in the production of new millionaires during the next five years, with a growth rate of about 69 percent. Some of these deep pockets are home grown; others belong to emigres attracted by Georgia’s pleasant business climate, as well as some excellent hard assets. “The airport is a draw,” says Kristin Diver, assistant director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University. “As is a vibrant medical community.”

Atlanta’s professional sports community has produced a wealth of millionaires. And the boom-to-bust ’90s notwithstanding, “people are still creating a lot of [high-tech] companies here,” Diver says. “And compared to other large cities, real estate here is relatively inexpensive even in the millionaire category.”

Pembroke Patience Produces Prosperity: Just five years ago the town of Pembroke seemed to be sitting quietly by while Coastal Georgia’s economy set yearly growth records and another Bryan County community, Richmond Hill, led the way.

Now that Pembroke and Richmond Hill are partners in the Development Authority of Bryan County (DABC), business is booming.

The DABC’s latest score is a partnership with Technology Park/Atlanta (TPA) to develop a 505-acre site in the Authority’s Interstate Centre Industrial Park, a prime warehouse and distribution location along I-16 in the county seat of Pembroke just 18 miles from Savannah. The warehouse and distribution development is just the initial phase of a 10-year plan that calls for a mixed use build-out of up to 7 million square feet at what’s being called Interstate Centre II.

The shortage of warehouse space needed to accommodate the booming business at Savannah’s port, coupled with quick and easy access to I-16 combined to make Pembroke an attractive location. “We had patience and planning,” DABC Executive Director Jean Bacon says of the lean years. “We knew there was a shortage of [developable] land in Savannah. We knew things would have to come our way, and they did.”

And it’s not just industrial development: New subdivisions and retail centers are under way or planned for the Pembroke area as well.

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Categories: Economic Development Features, Features