Trend Radar: May 2008

Bee Malady: Some 165 billion members of Georgia’s most critical workforce are without badly needed healthcare and their numbers are diminishing. This is the estimated number of bees in Georgia’s 100 or so commercial colonies who, every year, work their stingers off making honey and pollinating crops for the state’s most important industry – agriculture.

The number of bees has been declining due to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious malady that can decimate hive residents. Public awareness of the bee decline has been heightened recently by a flurry of news accounts about CCD and its consequences.

“This is far from trivial; it’s very much the foundation of agriculture,” says Keith Delaplane, a University of Georgia entomologist who has – sometimes quite literally – followed bees his entire career. “It’s long overdue that [CCD] is getting this kind of attention.”

And Delaplane is most pleased with the attention coming from Washington. Last fall, the USDA issued a competitive grant for $4 million to begin a nationally coordinated research project to get at the cause of CCD. UGA is one of three finalists for the research funding, and would be the flagship institution in a partnership with 17 other universities. The grant winner will be announced in June.

The bee shortage is nothing new, says Delaplane, principal author of UGA’s USDA grant application. “Honeybees have been on the decline since the 1940s,” he says. “It’s taken a sharp downturn since the 1980s when a couple of parasites were introduced into the United States, and it’s been a lot worse since then.”

This year, for the first time, Georgia’s honey industry is being included in UGA’s calculations of farm gate value, like most other agriculture commodities. The latest estimate of honey’s value to agriculture is that it sweetens the pot by about $75 million annually. Georgia is a national leader in the production and distribution of comb honey, which, as the name implies, is packaged with a section of the comb in which the bees store the sweet stuff. The epicenter of comb honey distribution is in rural Clinch County at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

New Position: Earlier this year when the Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) announced the arrival of Georgia’s first international business concierge, the state was reinforcing a message already sent to global business.

“The governor has a customer service standard of faster, friendlier, easier in the state of Georgia,” says GDEcD Commissioner Ken Stewart. “Those three words are very powerful. And we intend to put together a good solid portfolio of benefits for our customers so that they are successful.”

Managing a portion of that portfolio will be Nico Wijnberg, the man named to the new post, which Stewart believes to be the first of its kind in the nation. Wijnberg came to Georgia via the Netherlands and speaks seven languages. “When you have a concierge, you know you can go to him for anything,” Stewart says. “And that relates to the quality of your state, just as it relates to the quality of a hotel. In our particular case, we intend to have satisfied customers in the state of Georgia.” For new foreign businesses, Wijnberg will be the go-to figure for getting things done anywhere in state government, Stewart says.

Narrow Escape: When Atlanta was hit by tornadoes in March, developer Jerry Miller feared the worst for his downtown and midtown projects. But he was lucky, he says: “Just a few broken windows.”

Miller, a principal in Miller Gallman, developers of the historic Troy-Peerless building across from City Hall East, has played a major role in changing Atlanta’s landscape without using a wrecking ball or bulldozer.

Twelve years ago, he had the guiding hand in turning the 1929 Troy-Peerless art deco building – once a laundry – into loft apartments, and in the process, qualifying for federal historic tax credits. He’s now turning those loft apartments into 32 condos priced from $129,000 to $399,000 to meet a demand he says is growing due to the migration of suburbanites to the city.

Within two weeks of opening the Troy-Peerless sales office, Miller says he signed 10 contracts, even when tornado debris made traveling downtown difficult.

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features