Together, South Georgia counties are forming an economic partnership to recruit new industries and support the expansion of existing companies.
Several years ago, economic development and chamber leaders from across South Georgia started meeting quarterly to share best practices and discuss strategies that promote economic prosperity. As part of Locate South Georgia, 17 counties are combining their resources to market the region as globally competitive for business and industry growth.
“Locate South Georgia started as an economic marketing entity, mostly sponsoring events, attending trade shows, and working with project managers to bring awareness to the region,” said Justin Strickland, president of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission. “Now we are focused on marketing, advocacy, and leadership development.”
As part of its marketing efforts, the group recently launched a new website (locatesouthgeorgia.com) that defines the region’s competitive advantages including its strength as a logistical hub within the Southeast region, an abundance of natural resources, trained workforce, and exceptional quality of life.
“One of the great things about Locate South Georgia is these communities are partnering where they can, through marketing, networking, defining legislative priorities, and addressing rural issues,” said Scott Purvis, community and economic development manager for Georgia Power’s south region. “More importantly they are working on solutions.”
As one of Locate South Georgia’s partners, Purvis said Georgia Power’s mission is directly tied to the economic wellbeing of Georgia. “The stronger the local communities are, the stronger the state, and the stronger the state the stronger Georgia Power is, so in essence, Georgia Power can’t grow without economic development.”
In addition to Georgia Power, Locate South Georgia is also able to expand its outreach through support from the Georgia Chamber, AT&T, Electric Cities of Georgia, and Georgia Electric Membership Corporation.
“We wish to be seen and utilized as an available resource, whether it is for our legislators, city and county officials, or existing industries,” said Courtney Brinson, AT&T regional director for external affairs. “There is a lot of knowledge, talent, and expertise within Locate South Georgia that can be an asset for the communities. We are here to help them.”
In the past two years, Locate South Georgia communities have celebrated more than $500 million in capital investments and the creation of approximately 2,000 jobs.
Spotlighting regional economic success, Dougherty and Decatur counties were recognized as 2018 Deals of the Year by the Georgia Department of Economic Developers Association. With significant industry announcements, both counties were acknowledged for outstanding achievement in the recruitment or expansion of a business in Georgia, while creating community partnerships to bring about economic growth.
In the mid-size community category, Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission was recognized for the Georgia-Pacific lumber project. The $150 million project is expected to create 130 jobs in a new lumber production facility constructed in the Albany-Dougherty Industrial Park.
“Georgia-Pacific choosing to locate its newest modern lumber production facility here showcases that advanced manufacturing works in Southwest Georgia,” Strickland said. “This plant will create significant investment for our community and jobs for our residents. We are proud that Georgia-Pacific lumber will soon be on the extensive list of quality products that are made in Albany-Dougherty County.”
The Deal of the Year award for a small-size community went to the Development Authority of Bainbridge and Decatur County for recruiting Taurus USA to the Southwest Georgia community. The $22.5 million project is expected to create more than 300 jobs.
Before the 2018 year ended, Thomas County announced that Check-Mate Industries, Inc., will create 230 jobs and invest more than $16 million in a new manufacturing location in Thomasville.
With a positive start in 2019, Colquitt County announced that Forquímica, a developer of sustainable agricultural products, will create 80 jobs and invest $1 million in Moultrie.
With the creation of more than 2,000 new jobs being announced in the region during the past two years, Jason Dunn, executive director of the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority, said this represents growth for all of Georgia.
“A large-scale economic announcement benefits the entire region,” said Dunn, who is current chair of Locate South Georgia. “When one community wins, we all win.”
Comparing driving time in rural areas versus metro areas, Dunn said, “In metro areas, 30 minutes in a car might get you five to ten miles, yet 30 minutes of driving in South Georgia can get you 20 to 25 miles. These types of logistics allow our peers in South Georgia to live in one community and work in another.”
With a diverse mix of industries, prime geographical location, robust infrastructure, trained workforce, and a vibrant quality of life, it is easy to see why South Georgia continues to be the right choice for new and expanding businesses and industries.
Purvis said South Georgia has both opportunities and challenges when it comes to recruiting and expanding industry.
“Rural South Georgia will have overall opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution,” Purvis said. “However, communities need to think specifically on what they have in place in terms of product and workforce, and what industries and jobs they are best suited for.”
Known for its strong agriculture production and food processing, South Georgia also serves as a hub for continued growth in manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing.
Home to national manufacturing companies including Procter and Gamble, Georgia Pacific, Chaparral Boats, and Steeda Motorsports, all have facilities in South Georgia.
Geographically, South Georgia provides an ideal location for servicing the entire Southeastern part of the U.S. Convenient access to major interstates, Class I railroads, and proximity to ports in Savannah, Brunswick, and Jacksonville provides the region with a robust logistics industry.
South Georgia also has numerous distribution centers including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Dillard’s, and Target.
Creating a Viable Workforce
A readily available and highly trained workforce is necessary for a region to sustain long-term growth and economic stability.
With a regional mission to serve 41 counties in South Georgia, Valdosta State University (VSU) established the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact. The center allows VSU to partner with community leaders to identify issues confronting South Georgia, and then connect those issues with faculty, staff, and student expertise in the fields of economic development, education, healthcare, the arts, and governmental effectiveness within South Georgia.
“We are working with communities across the region to provide resources to develop their communities to be more competitive at every level,” said Darrell Moore, executive director of the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact. “We will work with projects in healthcare, education, community development, expansion of existing industries, and quality of life.”
VSU is making community engagement an integral part of its strategic plan.
“We want to partner with these communities, not just lending expertise but with boots on the ground approach,” said Moore. “We want to help them address challenges and make their communities a better place to live and work.”
With a focus on issues facing rural communities throughout Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) is home to the state’s new Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation.
The Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation was established in 2018 as part of a state-wide effort to serve as a central information and research hub for rural leadership training and best practices. The center’s focus will include community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with non-profits, religious organizations, and other higher education partners.
Along with education and workforce resources provided by VSU and ABAC, the Technical College System of Georgia’s (TCSG) multi-campus structure provides educational accesses throughout the South Georgia region.
A strong technical college system is critical to continued success in recruiting and expanding industry, especially within manufacturing.
The state’s Quick Start program, administered by TCSG institutions, provides training designed around the unique needs of each employer at no cost to qualified Georgia companies, whether new to the state, expanding its current workforce, or adding new technology to remain competitive.
“Our local technical colleges and Georgia Quickstart are integral parts of the overall economic development process,” said Dr. Craig Wentworth, president at Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC). “When any organization begins their site selection process for new or expanding business, workforce is one of the primary criteria they seek to include in that process.”
Wentworth said SRTC can meet the business and industry needs from both a credit and non-credit viewpoint and will customize programs to meet each company’s specific training needs. “This results in high quality short-term and long-term training for the company or organization in their start-up or expansion. Our ability to meet their workforce needs is crucial to their business success.”
Brandy Wilkes, associate vice president of economic development at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, said a large part of Wiregrass Tech’s mission is focused on workforce training.
Serving 11 counties in South Georgia, Wilkes said Wiregrass Tech works closely with chamber and economic development representatives within its service region.
“A trained workforce is critical to economic development,” she said, “whether it is attracting new industries or helping existing industries expand by supplying trained workers.”
Through dual enrollment and apprenticeship programs, Wiregrass Tech partners with local businesses and industries to ensure that its curriculum and training programs are preparing students for high-skill and high-demand jobs.
“When we hear that there is a specific skill or training needed, then we work with local industries to develop the curriculum,” Wilkes said. “Our industry partners keep us informed on what skills are needed and in demand.”
For example, Wilkes said in Coffee County, there was a high need several years ago for welders. “We heard from some of our industry partners that they were having trouble hiring welders. At the time, we didn’t offer welding at our Coffee County campus, but we do now.”
In 2014, with the focus that leadership begins at home, Locate South Georgia developed South GeorgiaLEADS. In partnership with the Georgia Chamber and University of Georgia J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership, Locate South GeorgiaLEADS is an eight-month program designed to facilitate awareness of issues that are essential to the region’s future.
Throughout the year, participants attend programs focused on economic development, innovations in agriculture, entrepreneurship, transportation and infrastructure, education, workforce development, and legislative issues.
Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission
Bainbridge & Decatur County Development Authority
Berrien County Chamber of Commerce & Development Authority
Brooks County Development Authority
Cordele-Crisp County Industrial Development Council
Douglas-Coffee County Economic Development Authority
Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority
Grady County Joint Development Authority
Lee County Chamber of Commerce
Mitchell County Development Authority
Moultrie Colquitt County Development Authority
Randolph County Chamber of Commerce & Development Authority
Sylvester-Worth County Economic Development Authority
Thomasville Payroll Authority
Sumter County Development Authority
Tifton-Tift County Chamber & Development Authority
Valdosta Lowndes Development Authority