The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority hosted an Economic Development Appreciation Day Tuesday morning. Honorees included Aubri Lane’s, Baldwin County Board of Commissioners, Bug House Pest Control, Central Georgia Technical College, City of Milledgeville, Digital Bridges, Georgia College & State University, Georgia Military College, Goebel Media Group, Louie Herron Toyota, Middle Georgia Regional Commission, Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce, Ocmulgee Site & Environmental Design, Oconee Regional Medical Center and The Brick. Development Authority Executive Director Matt Poyner thanked attendees for a successful group approach. Georgia Department of Economic Development Director Jennifer Nelson said Baldwin County should feel good about the local partnerships that show industry the area has strong leadership.
Improving the local development authority’s website is a top priority of Executive Director Matt Poyner. Five months into his post, he said the upgrades should be ready by the end of the year. Updating demographics, quality of life, land availability, climate, labor pools and millage rate information are just a few of the changes. Poyner said the site will answer all questions for an industry interested in Baldwin County. “I bet that this new website will be one of the most advanced sites in the state for economic development. What we are doing on our site is going to be very unique,” Poyner said. “These consultants are doing website searches before they go to the state. We might not get those looks right now because our website doesn’t provide enough data.” Currently, the development authority is also working on clearing two areas within the Milledgeville/Baldwin County industrial park. The county has pledged to help. Clearing and grading the 40-acre portion behind Rath Refractories and a 44-acre area closer to Highway 22 falls under Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding totaling $2.5 million. Interested industries do ask about the relationship between the local governments. They want to make sure no bad blood exists. On the development authority end, Poyner sees no issue.
Matt Poyner just finished up his first three months as the executive director for the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority. His networking ability and early activity report impressed Baldwin County Commissioner Sammy Hall in a recent board of commissioners meeting. Sprucing up the industrial park and filling the spec building off Highway 22 rank at the top of Poyner’s list, together with a updated marketing materials and website. The 60,000 square-foot spec building has interested viewers. Completing Phase 2 development of 250 acres at the industrial park is important also.The current plan divides the remaining undeveloped land into large parcels. Poyner said foreign companies need at least 50 acres of flat land to envision the build. The inventory is present, just not ready for construction. “This project takes time. We have to keep our head up, keep moving and hope we are doing the right things. Baldwin County has a lot to offer,” Poyner said. “They can love us, but if we don’t have what they need in terms of workforce, land or buildings, we aren’t going to have a shot at it. Opening up this park will be critical to getting us some leads and generation from the state level.” Keeping current industry happy is important to the development authority. The executive director said existing companies are the heart and soul of the community. As companies like Zschimmer & Schwarz grow their job footprint, industry folks notice Baldwin County’s potential. Helping existing industry growth endures within the agency’s mission. Meeting and greeting these folks makes all the difference. Poyner understands the pressure to reach development goals. “I’m very cognizant that my salary comes from tax dollars. I want to do the right thing. I’m invested in this community and I want to see it succeed,” the executive director said.
A stretch of land down the road off Highway 441 South in McIntyre holds weighty possibilities of Milledgeville and Baldwin County’s future in the short-term and beyond. At 18,120 feet long, the newly completed passing siding rail line on Dedrick Road in Wilkinson County creates access for not only transporting goods and freight but also delivering economic development growth as well. The rail project, which took a year to complete, aims to help increase the transport speed on Norfolk Southern’s Savannah to Atlanta line, making the location of facilities in both counties more attractive to corporations and impacting their future. It also impacts the future of Baldwin County and Wilkinson County as broader conversations on the future of transportation and the delivery of goods and services are held throughout the remainder of the state. For the past few years, state officials and leaders along Georgia’s coast have worked to bring focus and funding to the Port of Savannah in an effort to continue deepening the port’s harbor.
Savannah is one of the nation’s busiest container ports already, yet it has the shallowest waterway of any major U.S. port. State officials have long argued they need deeper water to stay competitive as cargo ships grow larger. Savannah and other East Coast ports are racing to deepen their harbors to accommodate supersize cargo ships after the Panama Canal completes a major expansion in 2014. The upgraded canal will handle ships needing 50 feet of water. The race to deepen the ports is on — and there is heavy competition coming out of South Carolina as leaders there are working to deepen its harbor from 45 to 50 feet, with completion expected between 2020 and 2024. To best South Carolina’s efforts, Georgia port officials are pushing to get it done by the end of 2016. How does this impact Baldwin County and how, if at all, does it relate to the rail project in McIntyre? As the Savannah port project continues, Georgia’s role in transporting goods is elevated, with more freight coming through our state’s channels. The heavier port traffic increases the need to get freight transported across the state — making Baldwin County and Central Georgia a focal point and the newly completed rail project and work on the Fall Line Freeway even more significant. The potential for economic development opportunities — jobs along the area of the rail line and making the location of facilities in both Baldwin and Wilkinson more attractive to corporations. The road to this point in the development process has been long and winding, but the efforts of leaders in both counties coupled with the work of the Fall Line Regional Development Authority has brought us to this point. Continuing to look at the broader picture, where Baldwin County fits in it all by not losing focus, is imperative for the future of this area.
New entrepreneurship forecasts a spirited renewal in downtown Milledgeville, as several young business owners advance fresh trends for the college and overall community markets. Two 23-year-olds have opened businesses in 2012. Kyle Stevenson, Herndon’s Downtown and Brian Jones, Sun Studios, chose Milledgeville because of the heavy college influence. Later this month, Shannon Stuart, 24, will unveil The Lemon Tree gift and home accessory store. All three attended Georgia universities and decided on another college town business locale. Herndon’s is an upscale men’s clothing store for the southern gentleman but does provide female options. Sun Studios tanning salon serves those even skin coat desires. All three young entrepreneurs took the reigns on their own terms. Having Georgia College and GMC surrounding downtown was a gigantic attraction for all three young retailers. Sun Studios and The Lemon Tree are located on South Wayne while Herndon’s occupies the quickly developing North Wayne side. Targeting the college students’ needs is paramount. Jones noticed the recent growth and said the short walking distance from campus helps business. Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce CEO April Bragg said Herndon’s and Sun Studios support chamber events and is proud of the business newcomers. These youthful merchants are perfect examples of the chamber initiative toward fostering an entrepreneurial environment, according to Bragg. “I think it’s refreshing to see the energy they bring. The Milledgeville reception across the board has been wonderful,” Bragg said. “We are at a point of major growth. The downtown energy has nowhere to go but spill over to the community at large, pumping new life throughout.” The Lemon Tree joins around five new merchants in the works. “Downtowns are the heart of the city. It’s more cultural,” Downtown Development Authority and Milledgeville Main Street Director Carlee Schulte. “The charm and feeling is just different. The city has done a great job preserving that feel.”