Albany | Dougherty County: Renewed Appeal

Fresh faces, new business and improvement projects.

State Albany Pin 3With expanding industries and forward-looking leadership, Albany and Dougherty County are banking on a brighter future for “the Good Life City.”

Dougherty County is welcoming its first Tier 1 automotive manufacturer and first foreign industry – Spanish company GRUDEM, which makes automobile components for Maserati, Range Rover and other luxury vehicles, says Jana Dyke, president and CEO of Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission (ADEDC). Equipment began arriving this summer from Spain, and production will start next year. GRUDEM is the first company to come to Dougherty from outside the United States.

“The location of this will open us up to other automobile suppliers who will see us as a good fit,” she says, noting the company is investing $5 million and expects to hire 15 to 20 people the first year and grow to 60 within five years. GRUDEM is repurposing an existing 30,000-square-foot building.

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Rewarding Work: Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission President and CEO Jana Dyke: photo David Parks.

Also a newcomer to the county is Texas-based Diamond Door Products, manufacturers of commercial and industrial steel doors and frames, windows, specialty items and hardware. The company closed its $5 million investment deal this summer to locate on Industry Drive in a 41,000- square-foot space. It plans to create 12 new jobs in the first year, increasing to 25 in the second year.

“It’s really exciting to have them coming, too, because they will be supporting the metal-building industry in this region,” says Dyke.

A recent job fair the ADEDC hosted with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau drew 60 companies and 1,400 job seekers, 300 of whom received assistance with their resumes that day, says Dyke.

“You could see the confidence level of the people who came in there increase from the time that they entered the building,” says Dyke. “That is probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done professionally.”

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Supporting Industry: Diamond Door Products, manufacturers of aluminum windows and steel doors: photo Diamond Door Products.

While the ADEDC has experienced a lot of activity and requests for information, it is also focusing on servicing existing businesses. Jessica Zurheide, director of business relations, joined the staff late last year and serves as the go-to person for those existing businesses.

Building Up Downtown

After more than two decades of meetings, votes, stops and starts, site selection and funding challenges, the city finally celebrated the opening of its new $11.8 million transit center this spring. The new facility is on the grounds of the previous bus station, offering passengers a new, safe space for departing and arriving.

Also downtown, the City of Albany entered into a memorandum of understanding with developer Rhett Holmes, president of IDP Properties in Valdosta, to convert the tallest building in town, the Davis Exchange Building, into apartments, says Mayor Bo Dorough. However, the timeline is in flux as the developer is in the process of applying for tax credits.

To amplify its position along the Civil Rights Trail, Albany has several revitalization and improvement projects planned for the Harlem District at a pre-COVID estimated cost of $7.5 million, says Dorough. The historic district was once a hub for Black businesses. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop secured $2.2 million in federal funding for the projects, with the balance to be paid with local dollars, he adds.

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Bouncing Back: Rashelle Beasley Minix, executive director of the Albany Convention and Vistors Bureau: photo David Parks.

Top of the list is a reconfiguration of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, open since 2008 and adjacent to the restored 1906 Old Mt. Zion Church, known for its connection to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Albany Movement. The movement, which was formed to end racial segregation in the city, included nightly meetings, protest marches and mass arrests. King was involved in the demonstrations and was arrested three times in nine months before agreeing to leave Albany.

Also on the books is a $5 million renovation of the 224-seat historic Ritz Theater, which Dorough hopes will serve as a lecture and performance venue for the Civil Rights Institute and other downtown organizations. Renovation of the defunct Ritz Cultural Center next door is part of a long-term plan.

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Rewarding Experience: A recent job fair drew 60 employers including the nearby city of Dawson’s Police Department: photo contributed.

Other downtown revitalization efforts include major improvements to some of the city’s parks and community centers, including the construction of a new community center at Driskell Park, where construction began this summer. It will be funded by $3 million secured by Bishop and $6.6 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds, says Dorough. Offerings will include two regulation outdoor basketball courts, a playground, a regulation football field with seating and a swimming pool. Carver, Henderson and Bill Miller gyms will also undergo renovations.

While public works aren’t as noticeable (or as fun) as basketball and playgrounds, the city is making major improvements with its ongoing combined sewer separation (CSS) project. The project will replace the aging sewer system that in recent years has spilled millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Flint River following substantial amounts of rain, which is prohibited by the Clean Water Act. Protecting one of the area’s top natural resources is of key importance.

“We are accessing what funds we can from the federal and state government, and we appreciate all the help we can get. But we’ve also allocated a substantial sum of $20 million from SPLOST to the project as well,” says Dorough, who also says the city had to allocate $15 million of the $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) it received. “It’s very disappointing because this ARPA money is maybe a once in a generation or once in a lifetime opportunity that funds were allocated directly to local governments,” he says. The first phase will cost about $125 million in construction costs and by the end of 2024, the city will be halfway through the long-range plan for the CCS project.

Outside the City Limits

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Ribbon Cutting: Crowd celebrates the opening of the new transit center in March: photo contributed.

Albany pastor Lorenzo Heard, who took over as chair of the Dougherty County Commission in January, points out three projects at the top of the county’s to-do list, including a community park for the Putney area in south Dougherty County. Plans include a fishing pond, covered gathering areas, a walking trail, a community events building and playground equipment for starters, he says. Spaces for basketball, soccer and volleyball are also being considered.

“We’re trying to make sure that we are making accommodations to help in strengthening families and giving families a great place to go and a great place to have fun together,” says Heard of the project, estimated at $1.1 million.

The second project is building a morgue for the county. With the $1.45 million in funding already approved, Heard says the realization of this project is a long time coming. Until now, the coroner has used the morgue at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. In addition to having a dedicated morgue, the coroner’s office will be moved out of the county courthouse and into the new facility, freeing up some much-needed space for the arrival of a fourth superior court judge, says Heard.

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Public Works: Albany Mayor Bo Dorough: photo David Parks.

Still in the discussion stage is another project, to address the need to develop additional affordable housing in the county, says Heard, noting that it will help meet the housing demand while also growing the tax base.

“Over the next few years, our county, with some transformational leadership, will see some real economic growth,” he says.

Higher Ed Leadership

While still below pre-pandemic numbers, Albany Technical College reports increased enrollment for three consecutive semesters, including a double digit increase this summer over last summer.

Enrollment increases are evident in nearly all healthcare programs, and they’ll soon add a respiratory therapy program as requested by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Enrollment also continues to grow in the transportation division, specifically commercial truck driving, as the demand for new drivers continues to increase.

“We’re still trending in the right direction, but we’re not where we were prior to the pandemic, so that’s what we’re striving to do,” says Emmett Griswold, a former senior vice president promoted to the top seat last November, following the death of long-time Albany Technical College President Anthony Parker.

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Increased Enrollment: Emmett Griswold, president of Albany Technical College: photo David Parks.

Several major projects are underway or in the planning phase, including the learning and living community center in the former Albany Middle School building. In the works for more than a year, the project is in partnership with Phoebe to expand the pipeline of new nurse graduates in the region.

Construction began this summer on a new transportation facility to be named in honor of Parker. It will house the college’s diesel and auto collision programs. Graduates of the program are often hired to support the work done at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany (MCLB-Albany) in a long-standing partnership with Albany Tech, says Griswold. The school is also preparing space to launch an electric vehicle (EV) repair program.

“We’re going to embrace the governor’s initiative for Georgia to be the EV capital of the country, so we’re going to focus on training individuals to repair electric vehicles,” he says.

Albany Tech also hopes to secure an estimated $15.6 million necessary to renovate an old youth detention center near campus to house the criminal justice and cybercrime investigation programs and to serve as the Southwest Georgia hub for training law enforcement in hopes of filling many of the vacancies in the region, says Griswold.

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Transformational Leadership: Lorenzo Heard, chair of the Dougherty County Commission: photo contributed.

Long a point of pride for the Dougherty County community, the Marine base has also turned the heads of some top brass. MCLB-Albany was recently recognized as Small Installation of the Year for Installations & Logistics, says Jennifer Parks, a public affairs specialist at the base.

The award recognizes MCLB-Albany’s efforts in several areas, including becoming the Department of the Navy’s premiere energy efficiency installation. The base announced last summer it had reached the net zero milestone in energy, the first Department of Defense installation to do so.

The base is participating in Georgia Power’s Make Ready program, whereby the utility will install 21 electric vehicle chargers at nine locations in support of an all-electric fleet of vehicles.

A Fresh Look

Screenshot 2023 07 23 At 113424 PmIt’s been decades since the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau adopted its blue and green turtle motif and built its branding around it. With an eye on the future, staff there have worked behind the scenes to create a new concept, from colors and brand to website and social media, says Executive Director Rashelle Minix, who plans to unveil the new look next month.

Early in the process, the CVB hosted several community focus groups, inviting local leaders, community partners and area residents to voice their opinion on how to best present Albany to would-be visitors.

Screenshot 2023 07 23 At 113219 Pm“With social media the way it is, the tide has changed to where your biggest influencers are your locals,” Minix says, noting it’s likely the social media posts of residents that would-be visitors see when searching for information online.

Albany’s tourism continues to bounce back from the effects of COVID, with 2022 visitor numbers up 16% over 2021, says Minix, who also reports a $263.9 million tourism impact on the local economy. A 30% increase in hotel-motel taxes in 2022 is also good news for local residents; most overnight guests are business travelers.

“Our occupancy is ripe for a new hotel … More importantly, our average daily rate has increased a good amount, which therefore increases the revenue, which increases the [hotel-motel] taxes,” she says, noting a $2.6 million tax collection for fiscal year 2021-22.

Albany and Dougherty County have enough economic activity and tourism buzz to breathe new life into the Good Life City. As existing industries continue to expand and new companies discover it’s a great place to do business, Dougherty County continues to push forward toward a new horizon.


Sacred History

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Renowned Church: Parishioner Angel Bradford at St. Teresa’s, the oldest Catholic church in the state still celebrating Mass: photo David Parks.

In 1859 Colonel Nelson Tift, Founder of Albany, deeded to the Right Reverend John Barry, Bishop of Savannah, a 1.5-acre city lot for the erection of a Catholic church. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, St. Teresa’s remains the oldest church building in Albany and the oldest Catholic Church in the state still in use.

Parishioner Angel Bradford has attended services there her entire life. In fact, her family has been active at St. Teresa’s since the late 1800s, when her great-great-grandmother arrived from Lebanon, speaking just enough English to ask for the nearest Catholic church.

“It’s been such a huge part of my family. It’s where our family members were baptized, and all the boys were served as altar boys. It’s just been the central focal point of my whole family,” she says.

While the architect is unknown, the church is considered an excellent example of the frontier and small-town mission churches of the mid-19th century. Bricks for St. Teresa’s were contributed by a local physician and were handmade by enslaved people on the Barbour Plantation near Newton, south of Albany.

Bradford recalls a 2011 restoration to stop further deterioration of the brick exterior. A company that specializes in such projects was hired for the job and commented on the high quality of the handmade bricks, adding that they could never reproduce such fine work, even with all the technology available today, says Bradford.

A 1923 history of Dougherty County shares that by 1861, the exterior of the building was completed, and plastering of the interior had just begun when word came that Georgia had seceded from the union. Toward the end of the Civil War, it was recorded that the church was being used as a hospital.

A new parish church built in Albany was dedicated in 1958 and since then, the original church has offered mass at noon on Wednesdays. Bradford says about 20 people attend the service weekly. In addition, St. Teresa’s also holds weddings and funeral services.

Categories: Our State, Southwest