McCaskill: ‘Bainbridge economy not as bad as it seems’

Published 4:01 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Executive Director of Decatur County Economic Development Authority, Rick McCaskill, told Rotarians this week, “Things aren’t so darned bad right now, and we have to quit acting like it. We aren’t that bad off.” He then produced facts and figures to prove his point.

As far as population figures go, we have lost population from our peak year of 2009. The population then was 28,058. In 2015 it was 27,174.

The unemployment rate as of May 2016, the latest revised rate issued, is 5.9 percent and the lowest rate prior was in 2006, when it was reported at 5.7 per cent. So, we are only .2 percent behind where we were. Looking at employment figures, the highest number employed in 2005 was 11,389. Now it is 10,844, a difference of 545, but less people are living here, he pointed out.

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McCaskill gave updates on new projects, including the new 60,000 square foot spec building constructed in Commodore Industrial Park. Showing photos of the building, he commented, “It should get us back in the game where we want to be,” having an available building to attract prospective companies.

Work is progressing on a rail terminal facility at the county industrial park that will allow companies who need only two or three rail cars to transport their product a chance to switch from truck transport to rail car at a cheaper rate. “It allows us to have rail service without building a spur, which is very expensive,” explained McCaskill.

Work is also progressing on possible location of a tier 4 data center. “We are working with the local banks to build a 20 square foot building that would be full of computers to serve as a back-up data center. McCaskill said the interested company has been around a long time, always in metropolitan areas, but likes this area because of our distance from the coastal hurricanes.

If it comes it would only be about 20 jobs, but the facility would be a huge user of energy and put a huge chuck on the tax roles.

Speaking of putting a huge chunk on tax roles, McCaskill said he stopped by the county the tax office last week where he found the two large solar farm projects have put over $1,800,000 million dollars on the tax roles, $800,000 to the county and $1.2 million for county schools. He said they have two new solar projects pending. The land is already secured and the bids going out. McCaskill said he has a lot of confidence that we will get at least one of the new ones. It creates lots of jobs during the construction period, and income from the tax base.

There have also been many major expansions by existing companies. McCaskill spoke of Georgia Gulf Sulphur who added new lines and a new building and now want more space. Barber Fertilizer also constructed a new big building, as did Southeastern Minerals, who is starting another one.

A vacant building in the county industrial park has now been sold to a group of farmers to be used as a veggie packing facility, while the former chicken packaging place is now a facility for packing potatoes, melons, squash, and other seasonal produce.

Steward Machine, which makes large lock gates, waited three years to ship out an order last year. Now a shallow water barge customer has been found that would make barge shipping possible six to seven months of the year, according to McCaskill.

He said Steward is now making a huge drawbridge for shipment to another state.
Regarding Bainbridge Manufacturing, McCaskill said this has been a long, ramp up period. The building had huge problems and the owner wants to have everything white and polished when he begins. Final touches are being done on he floors and the machinery waiting in crates to be installed.

Very shortly they will be starting up their first shift. The company agreement with Decatur County and the state was they promised to create 100 jobs by July 2017. They will be required to meet 80 percent of that or there are claw backs. McCaskill is confident they will make their goals.

McCaskill also addressed Meridian-Danimer companies, now known as MHG, saying he can see both companies are very busy and adding employees. “Both are in an expansion mode.” The real good news is that over the last three months MHG has shown a profit for the first time since the two companies merged.

The old Propex facility has been purchased by a Miami man with deep pockets and he currently is renting out space. “We want to see operations that create jobs there,” said McCaskill.

He concluded his presentation with a comment on the prison situation, saying, “it is all politics. We could still get a state prison because the state facilities are crumbling. But it doesn;’t look good for now. We are holding on to the spot, for now.”