Effingham County: Disciplined Growth
Manufacturing, transportation and infrastructure
With multiple massive economic development announcements over the past year, Effingham County is in overdrive preparing for the influx of new residents, business and industry. Improvements to infrastructure, additional quality-of-life amenities and expanded healthcare services are underway across the county and in its cities of Springfield, Rincon and Guyton.
County leaders are committed to growth with determination and discipline, not reckless abandon. And they’re well on their way to proving they can accomplish that goal.
Ready, Set, Grow
Last summer’s announcement that the Hyundai Motor Group will open its first fully dedicated electric vehicle (EV) and battery manufacturing facility in Georgia was not only celebrated in Bryan County, where it will be physically located. It has also excited Effingham County leaders and residents just across the county line.
As part of the four-county Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, Effingham will be directly impacted by the $5.54 billion project, according to Brandt Herndon, CEO of the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority. All told, the largest economic development project in state history will deliver about 8,100 new jobs to Georgia’s coastal region.
Add to that Effingham’s more recent announcement of 740 new jobs by Sewon America, a subsidiary of Korean-based Sewon Precision Industry Co., which will develop a $300 million facility for the manufacturing of auto body parts, making it the largest known private investment in the City of Rincon.
Sewon is one of many suppliers for the Hyundai Metaplant that have now committed over $1.8 billion in investment. In preparation, the IDA is developing Grande View, a 450-acre park located off Old Augusta Road, where the new Hyundai supplier will be located, adds Herndon.
These major announcements follow several years of smaller announcements with big impact on the county, including development of the $500 million Georgia International Trade Center offering up to 7.2 million square feet of light industrial and manufacturing warehouse space.
The center is almost fully built out, with only 100 acres of marketable property left within the 1,150-acre park, says Herndon. Tenants include Shaw Industries, Pon.Bike (Pacific Cycle), Serena & Lily, Lowe’s, DeWell Group, Dukal and Sunland Logistics, all newcomers to Effingham.
Effingham County Manager Tim Callanan says he arrived at the perfect time about four years ago, just as growth was exploding in the area. “It’s been quite a ride! We’ve still got our challenges just trying to keep up with infrastructure, but I call them good problems,” he says.
And while the growth is coming quickly, the county is able to make sound decisions, having set aside areas of Effingham for industrial development a decade ago. When logistics companies began locating there a few years ago, there were no million-square-foot warehouses in Effingham. Now there are about a half-dozen.
“That’s really allowed the county to diversify its property tax digest,” says Callanan, of the logistics operations that landed there because of proximity to the port. “We have a strong revenue stream where we can address these long-term issues like road capacity, parks, and water and sewer expansion.”
The county also benefits from Transportation Special Purpose Local Sales Tax (TSPLOST) dollars and has completed about 80% of its planned projects. That funding covered a lot of repaving, including $5 million of the county’s $20 million share of the $52 million Effingham Parkway, a north-south corridor from the center of Effingham into Chatham County. Scheduled for completion in 2025, the parkway is expected to provide a lot of traffic relief for the coming growth.
And there are plans for nine roundabouts, says Callanan, of yet another project to assist with better traffic flow.
Unlike neighboring counties announcing mega-developments of 10,000 or 13,000 units, Effingham has maintained steady housing growth all along, he says.
“We keep a steady cadence of about 600 new home construction permits a year, and we think that’s a sustainable level of development. We obviously think that’s going to increase because of our proximity to the Hyundai plant.”
To prepare for the increase in population, the county is expanding its wastewater treatment plant, tripling its current capacity. Effingham is also extending water lines westward toward the Ogeechee River.
“We’re basically going towards where the Hyundai plant is with a lot of our water and sewer infrastructure,” says Callanan of the area south of Guyton to the Chatham County border. “We’re preparing for the demand because that’s where the growth is going; that’s where the developers are indicating and asking about development [opportunities].”
The county has benefited greatly from SPLOST funds, generated from increasing sales tax, says Callanan, adding that SPLOST will fund some $25 million in parks projects Effingham has slated over the next two years.
“Every park we have is getting a renovation to bring it up to a consistent high standard. And then, because of the growth, we’re looking at land opportunities throughout the county” for additional parks, he says.
All for One
On a smaller scale, the towns within Effingham are making their own preparations for growth, including Rincon, which boasts the county’s largest population. Major infrastructure projects include doubling the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant, says Jonathan Lynn, city manager. He uses the analogy that growth in the county is like going from a phone booth straight to an iPhone, especially in light of the recent Sewon announcement.
“We are as excited about that project as we are about anything that’s happened here lately because it is bringing jobs and hopefully gives us more residents,” says Lynn. “Everybody wants the Target, and the Chick-fil-A, the Hobby Lobby or TJ Maxx, but to get those things you need residents, and that’s what’s going to help us get there.”
The City of Guyton is gearing up for the changes this monumental growth will create, says City Manager Meketa Hendricks Brown, who is reaching out to her town of 2,300 to find out their wishes moving forward, in terms of recreation, housing, transportation and other needs.
“We’re just really trying to put together a comprehensive plan for the long term. We’re trying to get prepared for the Hyundai plant and what that brings to our community by educating our staff and residents on Korean culture or just how to welcome new residents altogether to our neighborhood,” says Hendricks Brown, adding that a new website will offer information about city services translated into Korean.
As far as infrastructure, she says the city is working to accommodate additional sewer capacity in anticipation of residential housing growth within the next 18-24 months. Repaving roads is also on the agenda, as is deciding whether to seek formal designation of the city’s historic areas, she says.
Although smaller in population than Rincon, the county seat of Springfield is experiencing more residential and commercial growth than in years past, says Erin Phillips, Downtown Development Authority coordinator and planning and development director for the City of Springfield.
“We’re just trying to manage our growth in a way that preserves what people love about Springfield. Growth patterns are not going to slow down so we just need to be prepared for that.”
One area they’ll keep a tight grip on is preserving Springfield’s historic district, says Phillips. Another is ensuring the downtown area continues the momentum but grows in such a manner that its character is maintained. A number of improvements are under consideration such as additional parking downtown and the conversion of an old ballpark to new greenspace, including a playground, walking trails and new bathrooms, says Phillips.
“Hopefully it will be a nice little bridge between the residential and the commercial area,” she says, adding that they want to maintain the charm of a small Southern town.
Caring for Community
Access to healthcare is always a concern, but especially when such monumental growth is anticipated. Effingham Health System (EHS) has been undergoing major transformation over the past five years, says President and CEO Fran Witt, who holds a doctorate of nursing practice, serves on the American Hospital Association’s Rural Health Services Committee and has been recognized by Modern Healthcare magazine as one of its 50 Most Influential Clinical Executives.
“We have added new service lines, and we have aligned much of our mission and vision with improving technology, which gives us an opportunity to solidify our infrastructure in preparation for growth and expansion,” she says, noting they’ve established new centers for cardiology, orthopedics and cancer care in the past five years.
In addition, EHS recently began a digital innovation journey, implementing Oracle Cerner, an integrated, single-source electronic health record and financial ecosystem across its patient care locations, allowing patients’ primary and specialty care providers to access patient information seamlessly.
The health system is planning to expand its emergency room and open a new Effingham Pediatric Center, also aligned with the coming growth. “It’s very exciting for the community,” says Witt, adding that the pediatric service line is critical for the community because they expect a significant migration of families to the county over the next few years. EHS also received 2022 Small Hospital of the Year honors from the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.
“Healthcare is the infrastructure of a community,” says Witt. “Not only are we an economic engine because we employ over 470 employees … but having access to healthcare in an environment that is exploding and growing is critical. And what’s more meaningful and purposeful is to have access to the healthcare that is needed for that community.”
Maintaining Quality of Life
When Andrew Cripps arrived four years ago as the new head of the Effingham Chamber of Commerce, he couldn’t have foreseen the amount of added growth his new county would soon have underway.
“We were already on a trajectory for strong growth in Effingham County before the announcement of the Hyundai plant, so that has just accelerated things. That project is moving very quickly in terms of infrastructure, of planning for schools and planning for residential growth,” he says. “We want to protect the quality of life, the education, healthcare, natural resources and natural beauty here, but also stimulate opportunity for our residents.”
Because of the EV plant’s location, the majority of residential growth will likely be closer to Guyton, Cripps says. “Up until recently, most of our growth was toward the south end of our county, closer to the Port of Savannah, closer to Savannah.
“A lot of our residents commute to jobs outside the county, so what we’ve been trying to do is stimulate commercial and industrial growth here so that our residents have those opportunities in Effingham and don’t have to commute to Savannah or elsewhere.”
The chamber wants to help the community recognize the benefits of the planned development and what it will mean for residential taxpayers, he says.
“We’ve been striving for a balance of commercial and residential growth because, if you’re all residential, then the tax burden falls fully on those residents. We’re urging a balanced approach to the growth that we anticipate coming, and I’m happy to say our elected officials have been very collaborative and forward-thinking in terms of how to both address the growth and maintain the quality of life, the excellence of our schools and our healthcare system, and preserve the natural beauty of Effingham County.”
One effort is Effingham Forward, a chamber initiative to help educate the community on how balanced growth provides tax benefits to the residents. “It provides jobs and opportunity, and it lessens the burden of things like road infrastructure for commuters.”
With practically everyone in the community focused on the same thing – continued growth while maintaining small-town charm – Effingham County has a great shot at seeing that come to fruition. And while things are still much quieter there than in neighboring Chatham, leaders in this coastal Georgia county are ready for the future and prepared to run with the big dogs.
Established in 1925 as a genealogical and archaeological organization, the Georgia Salzburger Society recognizes a history much older than its own. When Baron von Firmian, prince-archbishop of Salzburg (now part of Austria) in the early 18th century, forced Protestants to leave the country, some chose to come to what was then the colony of Georgia.
“The people came here by their faith to start a new home, a new place to live, and have a better life,” says Claudia Christiansen, current president of the Georgia Salzburger Society. “It was a tumultuous time. They went through a lot of trials and tribulations to maintain their freedom, and they did it by faith.”
Upon arrival in Georgia in March of 1734, the Salzburgers immediately started to worship, using palmettos to build little open-sided shelters called brush arbors where they could gather. Over time they built a pavilion of sorts, and then a small shack, all on a piece of property they called Ebenezer, a word referenced in the Bible to mean “stone of help,” says Christiansen.
In the meantime, they dreamed of building a substantial Jerusalem Lutheran Church on the grounds. “They found clay down by the river that they could make bricks out of by mixing it with straw and different things,” says Christiansen, noting it is still widely believed today that much of the brickmaking work was carried out by women and children of the village. Some of their fingerprints can still be seen in the church’s bricks.
The brick church survived centuries of use, including that of British soldiers during the Revolutionary War and Union soldiers during the Civil War. The structure remains standing today, where church worship services have been held continuously since completion, outside the periods of military occupation.
Today, that religious exile history is celebrated by the Georgia Salzburger Society on Landing Day every March. In addition, interested parties from around the world access the society’s Loest Research Library “because it is primary sources that we’re using – direct information from birth records, marriage records, diaries, journals, maps and things that were from the colonial period,” she says.
The society reports several thousand members on record from around the world, about 500 of whom are active participants. – K.K. Snyder