East Central: Holding Steady

Augusta is continuing to grow as an anchor for the east central region. “Honestly, activity has remained steady – we continue to see not only manufacturing prospects taking a look but expansions of existing industries,” says Development Author-ity of Richmond County Director Walter Sprouse.

Automatic Data Processing is moving into a new 160,000-plus-square-foot facility in Augusta on Flowing Wells Road. The New Jersey-based company specializes in software customer service for clients around the world. ADP currently has 450 employees, and that number will grow to 1,000 within the next two years.

Teleperformance, a customer service facility working with WellCare, met and exceeded its goal of 250 new jobs, hiring 320 in Augusta. In February, Teleperformance announced an additional hiring of 100 new associates, bringing its total this year to 420, crediting an excellent local workforce with re-directed expansion plans from other locations to Augusta.

Customer service facilities such as these are booming in Augusta; T-Mobile is planning to grow from 400 to 750 employees. The region is home to 18 additional customer service centers and consultants are eyeing the area for more. This concentration of information technology companies can be traced to the presence of Fort Gordon, the military’s information technology and logistics headquarters.

Fort Gordon also has been good for Columbia County, says Karen Chapin, chamber director. “Fort Gordon has a lot of new people coming in on a regular basis; they buy houses, new furniture, etc., which helps to stabilize our economy. We have three really strong cornerstones: Fort Gordon, our medical community and the Savannah River Site – even though it’s in South Carolina, a large portion of their employees live here.”

The region’s medical community includes University Hospital, Medical College of Georgia, Doctors Hospital, Trinity Hospital of Augusta and the Veterans Administration Hospital. Doctors Hospital is going through a $50 million expansion, and MCG is building a new $31 million, 57,000-square-foot cancer center in downtown Augusta in 2010. University Hospital is building a new cardiac wing, and MCG Medical Associates is applying for a Certificate of Need to build a Satellite Ambulatory Care Facility in Columbia County.

“There is also the Plant Vogtle expansion,” Chapin says, referring to the Southern Company’s plans to build additional nuclear power facilities. “It’s moving along with no major bumps in the road. It’s a multiyear project that would create thousands of jobs and put lots of money into our economy. We’re at 110,000 people, and we’re ready, willing and waiting for more growth.”

Columbia also is part of a regional initiative called the Clarks Hill Partnership, designed to promote economic development, of which recreational tourism is an increasingly significant component.

“It was the brainchild of former State Senator Jim Whitehead,” says Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Beda Johnson. “He recognized Clarks Hill Lake as a gem and wanted to make sure the communities in our region benefited from it.”

Since forming in 2005, the partnership has brought the BASS Weekend Series National Championship, operated by American Bass Anglers, to Wildwood Park. And all regional partners benefit when Columbia County brings the ESPN/BASS Elite Series event to Clarks Hill Lake.

“We’ve been busy,” says David Jenkins, Director of the Wilkes County-Washington Development Authority. “We had three available industrial buildings, and now we have none. New companies include AFG, USA of Atlanta, which makes fiberglass insulation, and importer-exporter Ruffin-Flag and Pliant, which makes plastics and film.”

While the 30 potential employees are “not a large number in Atlanta, those buildings were from the ‘70s, and it’s good to have them filled,” Jenkins says. “Also, Callaway Farms, which manufactures premier horse bedding for the equestrian market, located in our industrial park. We fought hard and it has paid off.”

Some companies are moving out of Augusta and into outlying areas. Acclaim Lighting relocated to McDuffie County, bringing 25 employees. Reliant Medicals, which refurbishes used MRI equipment for resale worldwide, will hire an additional 25. Amcor, an international shrink-wrap manufacturer, will invest $2.5 million and hire 40 workers, while Thomson Plastics, which makes plastic hoods for Club Cars and lawnmowers, is expanding by $2 million and 160 new employees.

“We’re far enough out, about 20 miles from Augusta, that an Augusta trucking company bought some land in our industrial park to move to because the traffic is so bad,” says Forward McDuffie Director Mike Carrington. (The company has not yet made the move.) “We’re right on the Interstate [20], so even though we’re a little bitty small town, we’ve had a good year.”

The outlook for 2009 is equally positive, Carrington says, with two big expansions in the works.

Burke County is working on a 117,000-square-foot spec building that will be expandable to 302,000 square feet. Another industrial site on 20 acres has been graded and is ready for construction, says Burke County Devel-opment Authority Director Jerry Long. “The spec building site is located on the Burke Veterans Parkway, 80 miles from the port of Savannah. We hope that we will be able to attract a number of prospects to the spec building site as well as the new 25-acre graded site.”

Burke is part of the 13-county Central Savannah River Unified Development Authority, which helps identify regional projects for larger sites.

“We have contracted with Thomas and Hutton to identify and evaluate the regional park sites in the 13 counties that would meet regional park standards,” says Tom Jordan, chairman of the CSRA Unified Development Authority. “We’re looking for something larger that would not compete with our existing county parks – 500 to 1,500 acres minimum. We plan to build the relationships and intergovernmental agreements to share investment as well as revenue.”

Meanwhile Jefferson County has a 650-acre park “which may be in the regional category – it’s big for us,” says Jordan, who also is executive director of the county’s development authority. Located near Wrens, it is known locally as the Kings Mill Site. The county is in the process of making it infrastructure-ready. “We have some project activity – assembly, agribusiness, bioenergy – and we’re in the process of bidding a 20,000-square-foot spec building in Kings Mill. We don’t have any announcements scheduled, but hopefully several will be ready by spring or summer.”

Otherwise, Jordan says Jefferson county is feeling the economic crunch. “Several of our industries have reduced shifts and announced some layoffs – but no closings to date. The new project activity could create more than 170 new jobs, but it may take some time to be up and running at full capacity. Even 20 new jobs in a county our size [17,000], however, will be felt in a significant way.”

Washington County recently re-cruited the University System of Georgia Shared Services Center. “They’ll employ about 14 to start, and hopefully grow to 50 or more,” says Theo McDonald, executive director of the Development Authority of Washington County. “We also have a new gas-fired electricity peaking plant in the northern part of the county. It’s about a $350-million investment to be built and run by Power For Georgians LLC, a consortium of energy companies, and should begin construction in 2010.”

A coal-fired power plant also is slated to begin construction in 2010 and be in operation by 2014, employing 130 full-time. That plant, located in the northern part of the county as well, is Washington’s third since 2000 and represents a $2.1 billion investment.

“Other than that, most of our economic news is bad. Kamin, a kaolin company, downsized in the first quarter by about 70 percent; Trojan Battery in Sandersville downsized 50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008.”

McDonald hopes to bring manufacturing or distribution companies to the county. “We look forward to the completion of the Fall Line Freeway,” he says. “It’s vital to us.”

New businesses opening in Lincoln County include Cept International, a distributor of outdoor furniture, and American Casket Craft. Eco-friendly yarn maker Jimtex Yarns is expanding.

“Also, Lincoln Welding and H&H Manufacturing (industrial maintenance equipment and supplies), have expanded into the Lincoln County Business Park,” says Alana Burke, executive director of the Lincoln County Development Authority. The new distribution centers and expansions have created approximately 40 jobs total.

Retailers have “discovered Bulloch County,” says Statesboro-Bulloch Cham-ber of Commerce President Peggy Chap-man. “With Belk and LongHorn having the most successful locations in the state here, it’s brought the attention of other chains wanting to enter the market. In 2008, more than $60 million in new commercial investment and 400 new jobs located in Statesboro.

“Also our population has grown to over 65,000 now, and our higher education community [Georgia Southern, Ogeechee Technical College, and East Georgia College a satellite campus] is growing by leaps and bounds, to over 22,000 students.

“We have two new banks, a Springhill Suites by Marriott, a Holiday Inn and a growing health sector at East Georgia Regional Medical Center,” Chapman says. “We also recently purchased 300 acres for industrial development, and in the past year hooked water, sewer and natural gas to our expanding Gateway Regional Indus-trial Park. We are preparing the additional 300 acres for future industrial projects.”

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features