Northeast: Taking Advantage Of The Lull

Blessed with the Blue Ridge Mountains and one of the Southeast’s busiest transportation corridors, parts of northeast Georgia are weathering this economic downturn far better than anticipated.

“We have had more activity than I expected for this time of year and under the current conditions, so it’s been interesting for the last two or three weeks,” says Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County. “There’s not been a lot of activity as far as cash on the table, but there’s been quite a bit of activity, much more than we saw in November and December.”

Much of what’s happening in Dawson is associated with Sembler’s retail development Dawson Marketplace. However, Sleeveco, which prints flexible packaging – like the film on soda bottles – is expanding and adding equipment. Southern Catholic Univers-ity graduated its first class this year, and Lanier Tech’s $5 million Dawson campus got under way in early 2009.

Until things pick up, leaders are focusing on supporting existing businesses and attaining Georgia Work Ready Community and Entrepreneur Friendly status.

In Towns County, Erik Brinke, director of economic development for Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, reports that leaders are partnering with BalsamWest to build a regional fiberoptic network that crosses and loops through Towns County. Young Harris College is upgrading to a four-year institution and will confer its first baccalaureate degrees to this year’s sophomore class, he adds. A master plan calls for new dorms and changes to downtown Young Harris. Also, Lowe’s is considering the county for a new store.

Meanwhile, a Walmart Supercenter set to open this fall in neighboring Union County could employ as many as 200, says Development Authority Director Mitch Griggs. Locally based United Community Bank opened a training center last year.

Union also is looking to the future and – along with Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and White Counties – is a partner in the North Georgia Network (NGN, pronounced engine). The group received a $240,000 grant from Gov. Sonny Perdue Dec. 1 to fund a feasibility study for extending fiber-optic cable up GA 400 to the North Carolina state line.

Hart, Stephens and Franklin Counties are approaching economic development on their own and together via the Joint Development Authority of Hart, Franklin and Stephens Counties.

“It’s a proven factor our labor draw comes from all three counties,” says Lyn Brumby Allen, Franklin’s director of economic development. “We work hard to promote the entire region.” One bright note in Franklin – the opening of a new Holiday Inn Express at the Lavonia exit off I-85 in late January.

In Stephens County, Dewtex, a UK-based company that produces laid scrim, an industrial reinforcement fabric, underwent a $10 million expansion that doubled its 48,000-square-foot facility, adding 20 jobs, says Devel-opment Authority Director Tim Martin. Gem Industries, which manufactures steel and plastic partitions, underwent a $600,000 expansion and added 25 jobs. Through a public/private partnership with John W. Rooker & Associates, the community’s Hayestone Brady Business Park now boasts an 80,000-square-foot (expandable to 160,000-square-foot) concrete tilt-wall speculative building.

Development Director Dwayne Dye welcomed two businesses to Hart County’s Gateway Industrial Park. Fenner-Dunlop’s $54 million, 300,000-square-foot factory will employ some 180 workers to make conveyor belts and transfer systems for clients ranging from mining operations to Walmart. CD Controls’ new factory is scheduled for completion in first quarter of this year. The company, which helps clients manage their buildings’ electrical load, will initially hire 25 with plans to expand to 50. In late 2008, Ritz Instrument Transformers, another energy-related concern, also is relocating to Stephens.

Economic Developer Anna Grant Jones says Elbert County is still in the running for five major projects. Bubba Foods is adding a new line and 25 employees this year and supermarket chain Ingles has upgraded a store at Highways 17 and 72 to a Super Ingles, complete with gas station and first aid clinic. On a less positive note, a local Honeywell facility that makes brake pads for SUVs and large trucks announced last year that it will close this year, taking some 100 jobs with it.

Madison County welcomed its first vineyard this year when Victor and Mary Boutier relocated from Acworth to 32 acres near Ila. In addition to wine tastings and an events facility, long-term plans call for a bed and breakfast and wedding gazebo. The Boutiers’ Chardonnay took home top honors in the white category at Georgia Trend’s 2008 tasting of Georgia wines.

Columbia Farms Feed Mill is building a new $20 million chicken feed mill to replace a facility in Lavonia. The plant should open in August and will employ 45 to 50 with a $3 million annual payroll. Other relocations include Georgia Metal Finishing Co., which moved 10 employees to MadCo Industrial Park from Colbert, and AAA Sanitation, which brought 25-30 workers to James Holcomb Road Industrial Park from Clarke County. A machine shop that moved from Gwinnett County shares space (and an owner) with the Hobby Horse Country Store, which sells horse tack and animal feeds.

Technology infrastructure is a focus in Oglethorpe County, says Economic Development Director Cary Fordyce. The county has joined with Madison and Elbert to address regional technology development as applied to distance learning for local schools, healthcare and economic development. Rehabili-tation of the Crawford Park and Depot is set to begin at mid-year.

Clarke County’s Drew Page is celebrating the addition of a Medical College of Georgia branch that’s set to take over the former Navy Supply School facility in Athens.

Rusty Haygood, economic development director for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, says new retail is filling out existing shopping centers on Epps Bridge Road and several new local restaurants, including La Parilla, are taking advantage of a beer and wine ordinance passed in 2008. Later this year, the owners of Athens’ Basil Press are set to open Plates at Market Center in Oconee.

Banks County, says Financial Officer Angela Sheppard, is making use of the lull to work on infrastructure projects such as a direct discharge wastewater treatment plant and expanding existing water capacity. The county welcomed a Marriott and a Comfort Inn & Suites, along with a Five Guys Burgers and Fries and a Blimpie, to the Banks Crossing area. In a bit of bad news, BJC Medical Center, which serves both Banks and Jackson Counties, laid off 45 workers in the face of $5 million in losses from unpaid medical bills.

In Habersham County, Industrial Development Authority Director David Inglis says Steel Cell of North America, which makes jail cells, has expanded by 140,000 square feet and will ultimately employ some 150 workers. Also on the grow, says Judy Taylor, chamber executive director, is Habersham Medical Center, completing a $38 million renovation that will double its size. The county welcomed a LongHorn Steak-house to Cornelia.

Rabun County managed to regain some manufacturing jobs in 2008, says Sean M. Brady, development authority director, while holding real estate prices relatively steady.

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, says The Village at Deaton Creek, a Del Webb community, is among the top selling subdivisions in the state. Local manufacturers are adding jobs and Stonebridge Village, a 1.4 million-square foot retail center at I-985 and Spout Springs Road, is still adding tenants.

Despite the loss of Caterpillar and some 90 jobs at press time, Jackson County is ready for a turnaround. “We have a 960,000-square-foot spec building in the Commerce I-85 Business Park,” says Commerce Mayor Buzzy Hardy. “It’s part of a 500-acre park on rail and the interstate.”

A Walmart Supercenter opening in Cleveland in July is heading a small surge in White County’s commercial construction, says Tom O’Bryant, director of community and economic development. Yonah Mountain Vineyards has opened in White County, and with two more vineyards in the works, winemakers here are organizing their own trade association, Wine Growers of White.

Lumpkin County welcomed Teton Industrial, a heavy industry general contractor, which takes on projects such as building power plants, to its Red Oak Industrial Park, says Devel-opment Authority Executive Director Bruce Abraham.

A new county courthouse is in the works, and Dahlonega has finished a master plan to enhance its historic square. North Georgia College & State University is planning to expand from 4,500 to 6,000 students and re-cently finished construction of a li-brary information center and recreation facility.

In Greene County, Economic Development Director Phil Mellor says a South African-based firm has purchased a 12-acre site at the county’s industrial park and will construct a 40,000-square-foot facility that will employ 30-35. An eight-acre site may be going to a firm relocating from Metro Atlanta. Another Atlanta fixture, St. Josephs Hospital, is planning to break ground on a new hospital on Highway 44 later this year.

New Fannin County Economic Devel-opment Director Stephanie Scearce is awaiting the opening of the $75 million Blue Ridge Golf and River Club, where homes start in the mid $500s. River-Stone Medical Complex, which offers one-stop shopping for healthcare treatment, added 40,000 square feet, almost doubling its space.

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features