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July 10, 2014

Development Authority battling through close calls

MILLEDGEVILLE — The community seemingly always makes the short list for major industry projects but has yet to land the big one.

Coming so close with no wins hurts.

Milledgeville-Baldwin County Executive Director Matt Poyner told Milledgeville City Council about recent events at Tuesday's work session.

Poyner called a recent June day where four project managers said no to Milledgeville the worst day of his career.

“I got four emails saying thanks but no thanks. We are moving in a different direction,” he said.

Two of the projects pulled out due to location. The town's distance from an interstate seems to be a negative during final site selections.

“That's absolutely killing us right now. It's the cost to get from point A to point B,” Poyner said.

For comparison, fees for a truck traveling from Milledgeville to the Savannah port are $575 per load compared to $475 in Dublin.

“Over 50 trucks a week — that adds up. Those are big dollars we can't compete with,” he said. “We are fighting an uphill battle, but at least we are in the fight and not on the sidelines anymore.”

Poyner served on Georgia’s Young Gamechangers board this past year and participated in final presentations in Dublin, which happens to be a competitor on most projects.

“Their weak points are our strengths and vice versa,” Poyner said.

Dublin has I-16 and money for economic development incentives, while they lack a great downtown and workforce.

The development authority will use strategic planning and Georgia College research assistance to help nab future industry.

A healthy living study, airport options and workforce component are the research topics.

“The students from Georgia College will help us provide data, so we can help market the community even better,” Poyner said.

The authority hopes leveraging the Port of Savannah will assist economic development as well.

More than 14,000 middle Georgia jobs are tied to the port. That port has grown faster than any United States port in the last 10 years.

“They are efficient and doing a great job,” Poyner said. “We are trying to tie into what the port is doing to become a destination and not a pass through.”

Finding dollars to purchase land at the future Fall Line Freeway Industrial Park shared by Wilkinson and Baldwin counties is another challenge, according to Poyner.

Officials with the Georgia State Properties Commission (SPC) and a delegation of stakeholders from the Fall Line Regional Development Authority (FLRDA) previously reached an agreement on a price to purchase more than 400 acres of state land at the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and the Fall Line Freeway.

Land in the four corners of the intersection falls in Wilkinson and Baldwin counties and has been the subject of the joint development authority since the inception of the joint development authority in 2000.

The site contains 477 acres of property that was part of Baldwin State Forest. The two counties are sharing the purchase price of $581,000.

There's a nearly $300,000 shortfall preventing the state property transaction.

“We have to go ahead and get that in our hand because we want to start marketing. It's going to be a valuable piece of land for these two communities and the region as a whole,” Poyner said.

The FLRDA plans to develop the properties to provide industrial and commercial space for businesses that would benefit from being located at the intersection of one of the busiest U.S. highways in the state and the long awaited Fall Line Freeway.

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