Central: Staying Busy

A cautious optimism is overtaking economic development officials in the central part of the state, as interest in manufacturing and warehousing sites is on the rise.

“Our activity has picked up in the last three months over the previous eight,” says Missy Kendrick, executive director of the Barnes-ville-Lamar County Industrial De-velopment Authority.

“All across the state, it’s amazing how busy everyone is,” says Tiffany G. Andrews, president of the Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce. “But getting them to commit is the biggest thing.” The interest is there, but companies are being slow and deliberate about making decisions.

“It looks like 2010 hasn’t taken off yet,” says Jimmy Davis, executive director of the Development Author-ity of Macon County. He has been working on one project for two years.

“One of the limiting factors to not just expansions but new business is the availability of funds,” says Bob Hughes, economic development director for the Madison-Morgan County Chamber of Com-merce. “But we are starting to see some stirrings.”

Anthony International, Rema Tip Top and Georgia-Pacific’s plywood plant have all added production lines and jobs in the last several months. Mad-ison-Morgan County is an Entrepre-neur Friendly community and working towards becoming certified as Work Ready. “So we can have all of the assets available when companies do come looking,” adds Hughes.

Lamar County is seeking Work Ready certification, too, and planning a charter high school to prepare students for the area’s current and future industries. Construction has begun on the new $160 million biomass plant, Pied-mont Green Power, scheduled to open in early 2011 and bring 22 new jobs.

In Bibb County, Nichiha is expanding its fiber cement manufacturing plant.

“They make a product for the building industry, so for them to expand is a good sign,” says Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission. While 2009 was a tough year, he says, five new companies came to town. Bombardier, the French-Canadian aircraft manufacturing company, took over the plane maintenance hanger from Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which was in the process of moving to Atlanta. “They invested a couple of million dollars but retained the existing 125 employees,” says Topping. “Before the end of the year they may add 80 more.”

Topping says he expects decisions by the beginning of the second quarter from the two or three companies the commission is negotiating with, all “substantial manufacturing” operations.

Last year Frito-Lay Corporation an-nounced a $75 million investment at its Houston County plant. It was primarily an equipment expansion, but the company added 80 new positions and continues to hire. Little League Inter-national’s Southeast Regional Head-quarters and its tournament stadium are both nearing completion. The two weeks of tournaments in late July will bring 8,000 to 12,000 people to Houston.

“We will have coverage on ESPN,” says Morgan Law, executive director of the Houston County Development Authority. “This will have a tremendous direct economic impact – and an indirect impact that you can’t put a price tag on.” Houston this year has seen an increase in traditional industrial recruitment projects, including several manufacturing possibilities.

“We were fortunate last year to be very deep into a process in an 80-community search,” says Cal Wray, vice president of economic development at the Dublin-Laurens County Develop-ment Authority. “We’re not only getting first looks, we’re making third and fourth cuts. We think 2010 is going to be a banner year for the county.”

As part of the Fall Line Regional Development Authority, Wilkinson County is involved in a public-private partnership with Norfolk Southern to add 16,000 feet of siding, a $7 million project.

Jones County opened a new 976-acre industrial park last year. Doug Redmond, executive director of the development authority, says he is be-ginning to see more interest in the area.

Crawford County’s existing industries are doing well. Polywad, Polyshok and Aramark Uniform Services are all expanding. Charles Westbury, chairman of the county’s economic development authority, believes the county’s free trade zone is one of the reasons.

Reeves Construction, a large asphalt producer in Dooly County, has begun construction on its new plant, which created 40 new jobs. A John Deere Superstore is slated to open this year.

“We don’t have a lot of jobs here that pay well and have benefits,” says Bob Jeter, executive director of the Dooly Economic Development Author-ity. “Both of these will.” He is convinced that 2010 is going to be a good year.

Wilcox County officials are hopeful that the year will bring business to its 94-acre industrial park. “We think we’d be ideally suited as a distribution turn-around point because of our location on the rail line and easy access to I-75,” says Curt Nichols, chamber of commerce president.

Dodge County is seeing prospects for a good 2010 also. “We’re on the cusp of several small things that look really promising,” says Judy Madden, president of the Eastman-Dodge County Chamber of Commerce.

In Pulaski County, Hollingsworth & Vose, which makes high-tech papers (including oil filter paper) in Hawk-insville, is hiring back a third of the 45 people lost in last year’s downsizing. The old Pillowtex cotton mill is being turned into a $6.1-million housing unit and farmers’ market, an excellent fit for the community.

“We’ve got some unique things going on with alternative agriculture,” explains Lee Slade, president of United Pulaski. Black Gold Potatoes, whose main market is Frito-Lay, grows Idaho potatoes in the county, and Bold Spring Nursery grows trees for the landscape industry. The county was selected as one of UGA’s Archway Partnership Communities, which has helped the county promote community meetings, training and strategic planning, especially in economic development.

Planning is something that Angie Gheesling, executive director of the Development Authority of the City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County, sees as a positive for her county.

“We lost our largest manufacturer last year,” she says. “We are working on building synergy by focusing on our assets and our marketing.” The new wireless network is certainly one benefit. That project has led to others, including Digital Bridges’ first community innovation center, which will cultivate entrepreneurship by making technology accessible to families and businesses.

Monticello has seen the rise of several small businesses, including retail shops, a tack shop and a couple of bed-and-breakfasts.

“We have a lot of entrepreneurial-minded citizens here,” says Nancy Ar-nold-Wood, president of the Monticel-lo-Jasper County Chamber of Com-merce. “We are looking forward to it being a much better year than last year.” A new hospice will open later this year, bringing 60 jobs with it.

Irwin County used a $24,600 grant from the Department of Community Affairs to kick off a “First Friday on Fourth Street” in Ocilla. Downtown businesses stay open a little later and participate in the chosen theme, such as Ladies Night Out or an art walk.

“It has been a phenomenal tool,” says Hazel McCranie, chamber of commerce president. “In a county with just 10,000 people, you’ve got to be creative to get people to shop local.”

Montgomery County is hoping to get word on the construction of its 1,100-bed detention center this quarter.

“All of the paperwork is in place. We’re ready to proceed. The owners are just waiting on federal contracts,” says Joe Filippone, executive director of the development authority. He is upbeat about the county’s potential and is hoping to locate some small businesses in the 56-acre industrial area.

The city of Milan in Telfair County is looking for someone to take over the prison that was closed by the state last year. Morgan Window Glass expanded to a larger facility within the county and added a new product line, which will mean about 35 more employees.

The state Department of Corrections held a grand opening for the new Georgia Corrections Academy at the historic Tift College campus in Monroe County.

Both Central Georgia Technical Col-lege and Macon State College are now offering classes in Monroe County.

“We haven’t had the presence of a technical college in our community before, so that is a huge benefit for us,” says the chamber’s Tiffany Andrews. She sees a lot of opportunities for commerce with the county’s new 263-acre Meridian 75 Logistics Center.

Late last year, mail-order company Haband, a major employer in Putnam County, announced the expansion of its distribution facility to a total of a half a million square feet.

“Like everybody else, our building industry was hit hard,” says Roddie Anne Blackwell, chamber of commerce president. “We were one of the last to feel the recession, but when it hit, it hit hard.” Still, she’s confident that things will turn around, largely because of the activity around Lake Oconee. “More of the houses here were high end so it may take a little longer, but it will come back, because of the number of people we have moving here to retire.”

Putnam is counting on those retirees to enjoy its new Plaza Arts Center, which opened last year. The Eatonton-Putnam Arts Foundation invested $3.5 million with the expectation that it will bring both tourism and arts dollars to the area. The 500-seat state-of-the-art theater has hosted, among others, the Washington D.C. ballet and the Vienna Boys Choir.

Categories: Opinions