Southeast: Power Points

Economic developers in many of the larger counties of southeast Georgia are reporting that their communities maintained stability and even saw some job growth through the economic turbulence. At the same time, smaller counties saw new jobs arriving, thanks in large part to the wide-open spaces of the region and the trees that grow on them. The region continued to benefit from the two deepwater ports that anchor the economy on the north and south of the state’s 94-mile coastline.

About 130 officials from Portu-gal, including the country’s prime minister, are set to arrive in Effing-ham County later this month for the “inauguration” of Portuguese-owned EFACEC Power Transformers. EFACEC will build the giant transformers that distribute electricity, and when the $175 million facility reaches full strength over the next several years it will employ 700 people.

“The Port of Savannah played a significant role in their decision to locate here,” says John Henry, CEO of the Effingham County Indus-trial Development Authority. “But rail line was also important to them. They will be railing those transformers all over the country from here.”

Just across the Effingham County line near Savannah, the power play continued with the September announcement that Mit-subishi Power Systems Americas Inc. will locate a $325 million manufacturing facility in Chatham County and hire 500 workers to run it. Significantly, the Mitsubishi plant is on the state-owned 1,500-acre “Pooler megasite,” once planned for a Daimler Chrysler van manufacturing facility, a deal that fell through.

For Tommy Hester, chairman of the Savannah Economic Development Au-thority, the Mitsubishi announcement was exciting news. “The state finally decided they could split that land up, and that’s good news for us for the future,” Hester says. “Now there is room for two or three more Mitsubishis in there. We’re running rail to the port for Mitsubishi, so there will be rail in there for anyone who comes.”

Mitsubishi will manufacture ad-vanced steam and gas turbines at the Pooler plant, and hiring has begun, with the promised 500 jobs expected to be completely filled by 2015. “Manufac-turing has always been a significant part of our employment foundation,” Hester says.

In Bryan County, new industrial muscle is being flexed on I-16 at the county’s Interstate Centre industrial park. “We opened Daniel Defense there in 2009 with 85 employees, and they manufacture guns and accessories for the military and commercial sales,” says Josh Fenn, executive director of the Development Authority of Bryan County. “In phase two of the industrial park, our public/private partnership with Technology Park Atlanta has resulted in a new 605,000-square-foot cross dock spec building, ideal for distribution – we’re only 18 miles from the Port of Savannah.”

Fenn says a new 900-acre industrial park located in the southern part of the county should open in 2011. “That’s just 20 miles from the port at a proposed I-95 interchange and is served by rail. We’re already getting inquiries on that.” The planned park is a collaborative effort with TerraPointe Services, the real estate arm of Rayonier.

Liberty County has long relied on the $4.3 billion regional economic impact of Fort Stewart to provide a strong hedge against economic downturns, but that figure will drop due to cutbacks by the Pentagon. Community leaders learned at a January working luncheon with base officials that Fort Stewart’s $184 million operating budget had been cut by half, and that hiring had stopped, according to Ron Tolley, CEO of the Liberty County Devel-opment Authority.

But Firth Rixson Ltd, a U.K. company, plans to build a 200,000-square-foot facility in the county to manufacture components for the aerospace industry and will employ 200 workers. “They have begun construction and walls are going up,” Tolley says. “It represents the largest greenfield project in the company’s history.”

Liberty County is also building a new $20 million judicial center.

Glynn County’s economy will get a lift from the announcement that Bruns-wick’s Jered LLC manufacturing facility will be expanding and adding 50 jobs to its workforce of more than 175. Jered is notable for its production of elevators, the kind that take fighter jets from the bowels of an aircraft carrier to the flight deck. “Jered has leased a 70,000-square-foot building on 20 acres,” says Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Bruns-wick and Glynn County Development Authority.

“Glynn County is home to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Cen-ter (FLETC), and those 5,000 jobs help provide strong stability for our community,” he says. The FLETC facility is a key Homeland Security training site and works with more than 80 agencies. “We’re currently at 8.1 percent unemployment, and we historically stay one or two percentage points better than national and state unemployment rates,” Sparks says.

Just down the road in Camden County, the presence of nuclear submarines supplies the local economy with $680 million annually from the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and its 9,000 military, civilian and contractor workforce. Additionally, there is promise that a nearby development will benefit the community. “The Department of Defense has submitted plans to Congress to approve stationing a nuclear aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport [near Jacksonville],” says David Keating, executive director of the Camden County Joint Devel-opment Authority.

“We already have the most military nuclear expertise certainly in the state of Georgia, maybe east of the Mississippi, and they have to retrofit Mayport for this nuclear capability. That’s just 40 minutes away, and we’re hoping they are going to draw upon that expertise.”

More good news here comes from the signing of a public/private partnership agreement to redevelop the 720-acre former Durango paper mill site in St. Marys.

Ware County cheered the January announcement of plans by a Swedish-German joint venture to build a bioenergy production plant in Waycross, creating 80 jobs with a $150 million investment. “That’s a lot of jobs for a community our size,” says Regina Morgan, executive director of the Okefenokee Area Development Authority. “They are going to manufacture wood pellets for export to Europe, 750,000 tons of them a year, and to do that they will use 1.7 million tons of raw materials, trees – and we have plenty of those.” Ware has 860,000 acres of timber and forestlands.

New biomass industries are coming out of the woods in neighboring Brant-ley County, where Magnolia BioPower LLC has announced plans to build a plant to manufacture one million tons of wood pellets annually when its facility opens in 2011. The company will produce electrical power to be introduced into the regional power grid. “We also announced United BioMass for the community, and they make briquette wood and logs for fireplaces,” says Jeanie Boland, executive director of Brantley County’s Economic Develop-ment Authority. “They made a $10 million investment here and will employ 25 people. Our plan is to create a green industrial park next to the Magnolia facility, because we feel like this is going to become Brantley County’s niche.”

In Clinch County, biomass investors have been showing up to examine possibilities for a plant there, a sorely needed addition to the local economy, according to Troy Riberon, chairman of the Clinch County Development Au-thority. “They were interested in putting in a pellet plant and exporting fuel pellets to Europe,” Riberon says. He says the forestry industry in the area is depressed. “Ironically, blueberry sales are exceeding timber as an agricultural income, and that has never happened before.”

There was considerable celebration in Toombs County when a new Chicken of the Sea International plant began production of its tuna product last fall following a $20 million investment that brought 220 jobs to Vidalia. “It was a godsend for our community, and we have eight surrounding counties that will also benefit from this development,” says Bill Mitchell, president of the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce. “Now we have the possibility of bringing jobs for their suppliers, and that impact could be very significant in a 10 percent unemployment environment.”

When the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant closed in Coffee County a few years ago, an estimated 1,400 workers and suppliers were left jobless, a void that is still painful. “We’re at 16.6 percent unemployment in Coffee County, and that is so unusual,” says JoAnne Lewis, president of the Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Economic Development Authority. “That’s why we are so grateful to welcome Orcon to the community.”

Orcon Products is a California-based company that is locating a plant in Douglas, employing 50 people in the manufacture of seaming tape for the carpet industry. “That seems ironic since the carpet industry is down, but I understand they have federal government contracts,” Lewis says. “They are moving into an existing building where they are making a $1 million investment.”

In Bacon County, the Blueberry Capital of Georgia, money is being invested to package the community’s signature crop. “We sold our spec building last year to a local entrepreneur to start a blueberry processing plant,” says Cherry Rewis, executive assistant of the Alma-Bacon County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority. “This is our first processing plant, and we are excited about that.”

Categories: Opinions