Next week will mark my first anniversary with the Development Authority of Columbia County. In reviewing 2009, there are several positive aspects of the year that bear mention, despite the continuing challenges of a struggling national and state economy.
Most notably, the census tract around the city of Grovetown recently was designated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs as an area that can now tout Tier 1-type incentives for industry recruitment and expansion. This area includes the existing business park of Horizon South, in addition to areas within the city of Grovetown.
A great deal of the credit for making this status possible - a status which will become a key economic development tool for the county in 2010 - belongs to the county's current legislative delegation (state Reps. Ben Harbin, Lee Anderson and Barbara Sims, and state Sen. Bill Jackson) and to the Development Authority's current and past board members.
Grading activity was completed mid-year by commercial realtors Blanchard & Calhoun on industrial property in the Horizon North Business Park, an area which is being marketed heavily by the authority through new marketing materials produced last year. The existence of an industrial area with site-prepared lots and utilities in place will greatly enhance the possibility for development in the short term.
The authority's 50,000-square-foot speculative building constructed in 2006-07, though still vacant, has garnered a number of inquiries in recent months, perhaps a further indication of an improving national economy.
Although the ultimate goal behind such a building project is to attract a firm to that particular building, the existence of available space ensures that the county will remain of interest to a number of site consulting firms and potentially expanding businesses. This, in turn, could lead a business prospect to inquire about other building property in the county.
On the workforce front, the authority and Georgia Power have been leading efforts to have the county attain its Work Ready certification, a program initiated by Gov. Sonny Perdue two years ago to address workforce training and worker skills.
The Authority also is continuing to work with Augusta Tech and its program staff to identify other industry training needs in the area - a task that will be greatly facilitated by the school's new campus in the county (for which infrastructure work commenced in 2009).
Also during 2009, the Authority was able to create an affiliation with existing Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) 26 to permit local firms in the county to apply for trade zone status as a "sub-zone" of FTZ 26. This economic development tool should prove advantageous for those manufacturers and distributors in the county that engage in import and export activities.
On the regional front, the authority has been active in assisting the multi-county Savannah River Site Community Re-Use Organization with its plans to create an energy park for the region, one that could attract private-sector firms and serve as a catalyst for increased missions at the site. The authority has also been interested in advancing the plans of the CSRA Unified Development Authority (and its administrative staff at the CSRA Regional Planning Commission) to identify a site or sites for a multi-jurisdictional "mega-site" industrial park in eastern Georgia.
Finally, the authority formalized its goals and activities for the next few years during a strategic planning session held in May. Many of the identified activities will involve capitalizing upon the resources and opportunities afforded by Fort Gordon, the local medical community and the county's proximity to the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site. These goals can be found at the authority's Web site at www.choosecolumbiacounty.com. Also, there is a new publication launched last year by the authority, the quarterly Columbia County Business Review.
With these goals in mind, the authority will continue its program of work in 2010 in hopes of achieving gains in economic development that will prove beneficial to the county and its residents.
(Troy Post is executive director of the Columbia County Development Authority.)
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