Rotary hears Economic Development update

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A positive picture of the future of the Decatur County economy was presented to Rotary on Tuesday by Rick McCaskill, executive director of the Development Authority of Bainbridge-Decatur County.
Before concentrating on the new industry growth, McCaskill gave a summary of existing business expansions that either have occurred in the past year, or are underway. Among those were: Southeastern Minerals, Sanfilippo, Shaw Manufacturing, Georgia Gulf Sulfur, and RW Griffin.
Special attention was directed to the renewed activity from Meredian and Danimer, now called MHG, and the new Agra Crush facility that will be housed in the old Propex building. “There is a ton of energy going on out there,” said McCaskill. The Agra Crush facility is pouring foundations for huge grain storage bins and crush canola machines are on the way.
“You will see a transition to a full-fledged manufacturing operation at Meredian,” he predicted, as they bring in good partners and have the space to accommodate them. He went on to hint at the existence of “one huge company,” with which they just signed an agreement that will be producing at that location.
The future of Bainbridge Manufacturing, which has appeared to be in limbo, continues to promise good things for the county, “It is killing us all that it is taking so long to happen,” he said. However, he indicated that the owner of the company has predicted to be in production by the end of April.
The Solar wind project is, “A big deal” according to McCaskill, who said it will have a huge impact on the tax base. It consists of two separate sites, which together use 1000 acres. It will incorporate over $1.7 million dollars of equipment, which will bring tax dollars to the county and school system. He indicated the land has been cleared and construction is underway.
One other way in which these projects benefit the local economy is by the large construction crews who stay in our motels and eat at our restaurants while working in the area.
The development board has plans to hold sub-contractors meetings and include those with lodging and equipment rental businesses so that we get as much bang out of the dollar as we can.
The Development Authority  also plans to host a local government get-together to work on those relationships, and are working with the City of Bainbridge to help implement the River Walk project.
One of the questions from the audience was what is the projection for new jobs? McCaskill replied that he looked for the unemployment rate to continue to drop slowly. He then addressed the type of jobs being created and whether or not Decatur County has a ready workforce to address the needs of higher caliber jobs, such as will be needed by the new industries.. He addressed the cooperation of the industries who are working with Bainbridge State College and technology departments to help train that workforce. He gave as an example that when Bainbridge College was looking to install new equipment in their technology department, they met with Bainbridge Manufacturing personnel to identify the machinery that matches their needs.
“Bainbridge Manufacturing puts us in a whole new category,” said McCaskill, who noted the need to diversify our industries.
Another question asked about working with high school students to show them what jobs may be available and how they might prepare for them. McCaskill acknowledged that although there hasn’t been as much contact with the high school students, he believed there would be good connections with Bainbridge Manufacturing. Currently BASF has been a great source of information for high school students, but the distance has been a drawback. Industries are saying, “Give me someone we’re capable of training — someone with the right attitude.”
Another question was about the status of the proposed prison. McCaskill replied that it is still hanging on. For four years the company has been paying $25,000 a year to hang on to the property. They have also spent big dollars on engineering studies. If it comes to fruition, it will have 600 lower level positions to be filled.
McCaskill said he believes Decatur County has a good future.. “When other industries see what we’re doing here, they will want to jump on board.”

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