Georgia continues to prove it has a winning strategy when it comes to economic growth. For the sixth consecutive year, the state’s business climate has been ranked No.1 in the nation by Site Selection, a leading economic development trade publication.
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), during FY18 approximately 80 percent of economic development projects were located outside of Metro Atlanta. In the past two years, the GDEcD Global Commerce team has located 193 projects in South Georgia, resulting in more than 8,300 jobs and $1.44 billion investment (See “Viewpoint” on page 11 to learn more.)
Defining the scope of economic development can be a complex process. Once regarded as strictly the recruitment and expansion of industry, economic development now has a broader focus.
Tina Herring, GDEcD project manager for region 10, said she has seen economic development shift to include “anything that brings investments into a community,” meaning elements that are focused on entrepreneurship, tourism, and the arts.
Not only has the definition and scope of economic development changed, so has the process of recruiting a new industry.
“If we talk about how things have changed, 15 years ago not as many companies used a paid consultant or site selector,” said Michelle Shaw, GDEcD senior project manager for region 11 and assistant director for existing industry and regional recruitment. “Someone in the company went out and looked at locations. Now the overwhelming majority of medium to large projects use a site selection company.”
“You can’t just think about bricks and mortar and industry as being economic development. There are a lot of components to consider, which includes creating a sense of place and good quality of living.”– Michelle Shaw
Whether it’s a site selector or a company executive conducting the search, the focus remains on finding the right fit.
Karen Rackley, executive director with the Worth County Economic Development Authority, said understanding the unique qualities a community offers is essential in recruiting new industry.
“Economic development is tied to many elements; you have to have a good internet presence, workforce, housing, infrastructure, product, and a good location to start,” Rackley said. “Each community must identify their target industry and come up with a strategic plan that best fits their area.”
Shaw said the project drives the location based on the company’s need. “There are a lot of project drivers, such as proximity to the ports, airport, or other infrastructure, also proximity to a customer, supplier, or needing an existing building or industrial land of a certain type. These determine where a company wants to move. However, at the end of the day, it’s all about the company’s long-term risk and increasing their long-term profitability.”
Show and Tell
Getting the attention of site selectors and industry leaders sometimes takes a little old fashion southern hospitality. In a region where hunting plantations and lodges are in abundance, South Georgia communities are showcasing their natural resources to grab attention.
In Sumter County, combining business with a little downtime was the focus of the recent Fields and Feathers event. Attendees were treated to hunts on the area’s most exclusive hunting plantations and a tour of Americus’ historic downtown, along with a few stops to look at potential sites for industry expansions and relocations.
According to Barbara Grogan, executive director for Sumter County Development Authority, guests at the event included executives from Delta, UPS, Georgia Power, and Georgia EMC, as well as potential industry prospects.
“Our Fields and Feathers event allows potential prospects and state-wide influencers a two-day immersion,” said Grogan, “allowing them to see an intimate view of Sumter County’s amazing industrial site operations, meet our local successful entrepreneurs, and get a taste of our strong sense of community.”
Retain and Expand
The old real estate adage “location, location, location” may ring true when recruiting new industry, but once they are established the work doesn’t end.
As the economic development playing field continues to become more competitive, communities are focusing attention toward the retention and expansion of existing industries already in their backyard.
According to the GDEcD, 70 percent of new job growth is attributed to existing industry expansion.
Andrea Schruijer, executive director of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority, said there is often a misconception surrounding the importance of retention and expansion of existing industry.
“Many citizens don’t see how much our existing industries invest, grow, and contribute to the tax base,” Schruijer said. “An expansion with 40 to 50 jobs is a good announcement.”
Similar to recruiting a new business, there is often substantial competition in securing the expansion of an existing industry.
“Companies are in the business to make money, and they can do this wherever,” Schruijer said. “Communities must constantly look at their business climate, which includes permitting and zoning process, property taxes, and overall cost of business, in order to stay competitive. As well as, work with their K-12 and higher education institutions to ensure that the community is generating an educated and skilled workforce.”
Herring encourages communities to appreciate not only the economic contributions existing industries provide but also the positive impact on quality of life.
“Your existing industries are the ones employing local people, paying taxes, and are involved in the community,” Herring said. “Their leadership and employees live in the community, and they are the ones donating to the food bank and sponsoring school activities.”
Grow Your Own
Small businesses play an essential part in Georgia’s economy, especially in rural areas.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Georgia has approximately one million small businesses (including many sole proprietorships that only employ the owner). Small businesses employ 1.6 million Georgians and represent 43 percent of the state’s
private, non-governmental workforce.
“Entrepreneurship is a big part of economic development,” Shaw said. “We may not be able to have the same exposure in attracting a lot of large projects, but one thing we can do is grow our own businesses.”
In the state known nationally for its pro-business environment, Shaw said small communities have an excellent climate for fostering entrepreneurship.
“In addition to the local chambers, there are a lot of state resources available to help small businesses grow,” she said. “In every community, there are numerous business success stories about entrepreneurs who started small and now are large successful companies.”
Herring is encouraged by the number of small businesses that are popping up in South Georgia. “We are seeing more young professionals, who grew up here and are returning to start a business and raise their family.”
Shaw said economic development has many moving parts and is tied directly to community development.
“You can’t just think about bricks and mortar and industry as being economic development,” Shaw said. “There are a lot of components to consider, which includes creating a sense of place and good quality of living.”