East Central: Signs Of Optimism

East Central Georgia has seen cautious growth in the last year, and most are optimistic about 2011. A few counties were still waiting for some good news, but taking comfort in the fact that there wasn’t a lot of bad news to report.

With its workforce diversification, Augusta continues to resist recession. Rural Sourcing Inc. (RSI) announced in December that it is relocating to Augusta, with plans to hire 100 software engineers, reports Development Authority of Richmond County Executive Director Walter Sprouse. That topped off a year that included some $57.5 million in investments and the creation of 1,300 jobs in Richmond County.

Bulloch County ended the year with some positive news as well. “The most exciting thing was the decision by Great Dane to locate their manufacturing for refrigerator trailers here,” says Benjy Thompson, De-velopment Authority of Bulloch County and Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce CEO. That represents a $34-million capital investment and more than 400 jobs; the plant is expected to be in production by early 2012.

The county is in the process of planning for infrastructure on 200 acres recently purchased along I-16.

“Bulloch is becoming a focal point for higher education in the state,” says Thompson, referring to the fall opening of a new campus at East Georgia College. Georgia Southern University is growing, and Ogeechee Technical College was ranked 23rd on a list of fastest-growing public two-year colleges in the U.S. with enrollment of less than 2,500 students by Community College Week magazine.

The Augusta Technical College campus in Burke County began registration for its new Nuclear Engineering Technology associates degree program in anticipation of the projected 2016-2017 openings of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.

The Combined Construction and Operating License is expected to be granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Com-mission late this year or in early 2012.

Jerry Long, executive director for the Development Authority of Burke County, reports that the county will soon have a new 100,000-square-foot (expandable) spec building complete.

Technological growth is anticipated in Columbia County. Development Authority of Columbia County Exec-utive Director Troy Post reports that a recent grant for $13 million, to be combined with another $4 million, will essentially provide the county with Wi-Fi connection.

“It will further improve the infrastructure here and make it one of the best in the region,” he says. Hot spots are planned for areas around the county. Surrounding counties will also be able to connect to the network.

The authority is working to have an area designated as an Opportunity Zone by the Department of Com-munity Affairs, which would offer additional tax credits for new or existing businesses.

In Emanuel County, East Georgia College is building a 200-bed dormitory. The long-term strategic plan calls for 1,000 beds. Bill Rogers, Jr., executive director of the Swainsboro/Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce, expects that offshoot businesses will add fuel to the area’s economic engine.

Emanuel anticipates increases in tourism due to improvements to be made at Ohoopee Dunes State Natural Area. Those include an interpretive trail, small boat ramp and parking lot.

The discovery of a previously un-known Civil War-era POW camp at Magnolia Springs State Park is expected to bring tourists to Jenkins County. The Jenkins County Development Authority was awarded a $500,000 grant from the state to build an interpretive center to house artifacts from the find.

A new, private 1,500-bed prison is under construction in Jenkins, expected to create 200 to 300 jobs in 2012.

“Spin-off business in the county is going to be tremendous,” says Paula Herrington, executive director of the Jenkins County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority. “We’ll have a lot more restaurants and hopefully some hotels.”

The tourists have already been coming to Jefferson County. Kackleberry Farm in Louisville drew some 12,000 during its three seasons, offering a corn maze, pumpkin patch, hay rides and zip lines among its 50 attractions. The Orchards Gourmet Nuts, Candies and Gifts, an outgrowth of Atwell Pecans Company in Wrens, is also doing well. A farmers market and an antiques auction house opened in downtown Louisville.

“We’ve taken this economic slowdown to gain some time,” says Thomas C. Jordan, executive director of the Development Authority of Jefferson County. “The cost of doing business has been reduced, so we’ve been building product, working on our industrial parks and infrastructure.” The authority is planning for four industrial parks spread throughout the county.

“We haven’t had a drastic increase in unemployment, but we’ve got folks that would like to work,” adds Jordan. “We have some active conversations going on and creative ideas for what might be perceived as a rural county.”

Johnson County is getting plans together as well, reorganizing its development authority.

“We’re trying to catch up with everyone and take a proactive approach to economic development,” explains County Administrator Guy Singletary. The county is working with Southeast Technical School to increase the number of classes held at the industrial park and hopes to form a regional development authority with neighboring counties.

Candler County Industrial Author-ity Executive Director Chuck Clark says that the turnaround in the scrap metal business has been good news for Allied Scrap Metal. He has also talked with several prospective businesses and believes the recently passed bond issue to fund expansion of the public schools will have a big impact.

“We’re holding steady,” reports Jackie Butts, chairman of the Taliaferro County Development Authority. Her comment was echoed by a few others, glad not to be reporting any losses. In Glascock County, a new dollar store and the re-opening of the local bank were offset by the closing of the area’s single grocery store.

Lincoln County is expecting to become Work Ready Certified this year. Lincoln County Development Authority Executive Director Ashley Banks says that Jimtex Yarns added 20 jobs recently and a couple of other businesses have expanded.

Easter Seals Diversified Industries in Soperton was recently awarded a new army contract, increasing its workforce from 70 to 90 employees in Treutlen County. ServPro moved its district headquarters to the industrial park, and Altamaha EMC moved its district office to Soperton, remodeling two buildings downtown.

Wilkes County recently announced the opening of Lazarus Manufacturing, a casket manufacturer, starting with 24 employees; the number should increase to 50 when the company is fully operational. “That takes all of our available buildings,” says Development Authority Chairman David Jenkins. “In today’s economy, that’s a good short-term problem.”

In Hancock County, the Ready-Mix USA quarry should open later this year, employing between 30 and 35, says County Commission Chairman Samuel Duggan. Area farmers are working with the University of Georgia to grow Miscanthus grass in anticipation of its use as a source for biofuel.

Warren County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director O.B. McCorkle reports that Oglethorpe Power continues to do permitting at the biomass plant site, but the project is on indefinite hold. U.S. Foundry purchased an idle plant in Warrenton last year and is expected to be in production this year. APAC Mid-South, a division of Old Castle Materials, is developing its state-of-the art rock crushing and rail load-out facility, a $50-million investment, which should be in production by September. CH Paving will be locating an asphalt plant in the county as well.

“Instead of going backwards, everyone grew a little or held their own,” says Mike Carrington, Thomson-McDuffie Development Authority Chairman. Thomson Plastics had a $3.5-million expansion, moving almost all processing and manufacturing to Thomson, about 160 jobs altogether, says Carrington. Amcor, a company that makes Shrink Wrap and packaging, has doubled the size of its space and is starting a finishing house, a $2.5-million expansion. He expects the company to start on a 100,000-square-foot warehouse this year, which will add about 30 jobs.

HP Pelzer, a longtime county fixture, had suffered in recent years because it manufactures parts for Ford F-150 and Dodge trucks, but the company has picked up some new contracts and added $2.5 million in new machine presses, which will mean about 80 more jobs.

The University System of Georgia’s Shared Services Center, which held its ribbon cutting in Sandersville last April, employs 27 and should eventually increase that number to 50. The center will provide centralized payroll operations for the system’s member institutions.

“That was a bright spot in what otherwise was not a pretty picture insofar as new plant openings or expansions were concerned,” says Theo McDonald, Development Authority of Washington County executive director. “Our unemployment rate is high at about 15 percent, and there are no signs of a rapid turnaround.”

Lamson Pipe Company is planning an expansion in early 2011 with an increase in jobs from 40 to 70, and Trojan Battery Company is expected to re-open the doors of its Sandersville plant and hire up to 50 in 2011 or early 2012.

“We look forward to the construction of and operation of an 850-MW coal-fired electricity-generating plant,” adds McDonald. “Although the company, Power4Georgians, has hit some bumps in the road toward final permitting, we continue to believe the likelihood of building the plant is very high. Construction should begin in 2012 and continue several years.”

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features