Trend Radar: April 2008

Empowerment In Crisp: At first, it seemed the hotels, fast food restaurants and travel centers springing up along Exit 99 on Interstate 75 in rural Crisp County were just another step in the evolution of highway development.

But the 400 acres of the Exit 99 quadrant sit in an Empowerment Zone (EZ), a federal designation that promises unusual tax credits for anyone creating jobs there, a fact that opened possibilities for Crisp County native Don Adkins. “This is going to sound silly,” Adkins says, “but it was a literally a childhood dream of mine to develop that exit.”

Now it’s a dream come true. Back in 2004, Adkins and his Cordele Land Partners bought the land surrounding the entire exit. The site was home to a golf course and residential area where Adkins bought lots and built houses and began dangling his EZ retailer tax credits in front of national chains and local entrepreneurs.

It is a powerful lure, he says.

“A major grocery store that locates there would get about $14 million in tax credits over a period of five to eight years,” Adkins says, “depending on what credits they took advantage of. We can offer something that no one else in Georgia can offer.”

There are only seven EZs in the nation, Adkins says. The zones were created during the Clinton administration, primarily for use in inner cities to stimulate jobs growth. “When I talk to retailers, none of them have ever heard of it,” he says.

The local school board has purchased 200 acres at the exit, Adkins says, and will build several schools there adjacent to the Crisp County High School, which has been located there for years. A new 107-room hotel has opened on the site, as well as a 25-acre travel center. Plans for restaurants have been announced and a local entrepreneur has committed to build a condo retail center. The Exit 99 development is one of the largest in decades along the southern stretch of I-75, a region that still has many lightly developed interchanges.

Adkins says the cost of his development company’s plans for the exit will be “well over $100 million.” Work has begun on expanding I-75 from four to six lanes from Exit 99 to the Florida line. “The visibility and the exposure are very attractive for retailers,” Adkins says. “This development runs alongside the interstate and we have four-laned the frontage road to accommodate it. I believe this will be an unusual piece of economic development for this region of south Georgia.”

Parking Places: Victor Iraheta is another student of interstate traffic, especially that of the Metro Atlanta area. But Iraheta is far more interested in what happens when those motorists get to their destinations. “If parking is a hassle, that is a deterrent to coming back,” says Iraheta, vice president and managing principal of the Atlanta office of Walker Parking Consultants. “The main problem with parking in Atlanta is the lack of a consistent level of service inside the parking deck.” Good lighting, visibility and ease of mobility are critical factors, says Iraheta.

Asked for one of his proudest accomplishments, Iraheta singled out the 1,400-space parking design he helped create at Emory University back in 2000. “The challenge there was the rolling terrain,” he says. “So you have to do a design that blends with the topography to avoid costly excavation.” The Emory parking project won awards, and a place in the hearts of those who use it, according to Iraheta. “It is so nice that people call it the ‘Garage Mahal,’” he says.

Applying Online: Last winter when the Georgia Department of Labor (DOL) announced Kia’s auto manufacturing plant in Troup County would begin accepting employment applications online, some 30,000 job seekers were expected to respond. But that number was far exceeded when more than 43,000 people filled in and sent applications to Kia’s website, opening the possibility of a cyber jam. But all went smoothly.

“The biggest surprise was how we were able to process 43,000 applications without interruptions in our overall system,” says Michael Thur-mond, DOL commissioner. By opening up computers and staff at DOL’s 53 Career Centers around the state and utilizing job fairs at technical colleges, the process ensured easy access to the online applications for Georgians who do not have home computers. Still there were un-knowns lurking around the one-month application period.

“That was the first time it had been done by an automobile manufacturer in the country,” Thurmond says. “But it was efficient and convenient, and in terms of selecting someone with qualifications, there is no question Kia has a large pool from which to choose.” Thurmond says the online job application process is definitely the wave of the future, especially for large employers.

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features