Sometimes being in the middle doesn’t help. While Upson County is right in the middle between Atlanta, Macon and Columbus, not having a major highway running through is hurting our chances of gaining a business. Proximity to a major interstate is a key factor potential industries consider when choosing where to locate their business and unfortunately, Upson County’s location has often been an obstacle. The issue was brought up at the September meeting of the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority when Executive Director Kyle Fletcher stated the broker for the old Lakeside plant said the location had been an issue in finding a buyer for the property.
“E Jane Caraway and I met with the broker for the Lakeside Building on August 28. He has had the listing for six months with very little interest,” Fletcher told the board. “He met with project managers in Atlanta to discuss reasons for lack of interest and they stated “location” as being the obstacle for getting prospects to consider the site.”
However, location is now not the only issue with the property, as Fletcher recently discovered a portion of the roof has collapsed. Fletcher noted about three weeks ago there was a visit was scheduled with a prospect to tour the site, but after receiving word a storm had caused damage to the building, it had to be rescheduled. She added the prospect was understanding about the situation and not on a tight schedule, so hopefully, something will still work out. She tried to go out and visit the Lakeside plant herself to see the damage first hand, however the care taker would not let her out of her car. Fletcher stated she was told it was due to safety precautions with the standing water and electricity because Georgia Power had not yet been out to check out the electric lines.
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold stated it appears the property was not being properly taken care of and he suspected the portion of the roof collapsed due to scuppers on the roof being clogged with debris, which did not allow for the excess water to drain off. He added that an acre of water a foot deep is 326,000 gallons which equals out to roughly 2.6 million pounds.
Fletcher stated the owner of the building is looking into options of what to do, perhaps putting a new roof on and it is of great importance to the TUIDA to know the status of the repairs on the building.
“We are marketing the building,” said Fletcher. “If it is going to be an extended amount of time to make repairs then we need to know.”
She told the board she would continue to check up on the property, which is currently listed at $4.9 million.
In keeping with the topic of location issues when it comes to attracting business prospects, Mayor Arnold, who serves as Chair of the Three Rivers Regional Commission (TRRC), told the board key players from the surrounding counties would be meeting in Thomaston October 16 to discuss the Export-Import Highway. Arnold stated that Jay Roberts, the new Planning director for the Georgia Department of Transportation, will meet with the group as they do another pitch on the proposed project to update the new people involved. He continued noting TRRC is still pursuing the state funding ($1.5 million to $2 million) needed to do a study on the project and feels that Roberts may suggest the counties involved follow the new legislation and do their own T-SPLOST to collect sales tax and raise the money on their own. Arnold stated that is not the preferred method, but something may have to be done in the future. He told the board the project has been getting support from communities all the way over to Carrollton and into Alabama, who understand the importance of Export-Import Highway from a state standpoint. Arnold concluded that Representative Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. hand delivered an updated package on the project to Governor Nathan Deal, so hopefully interest in it will continue to grow.
In other business, Fletcher updated the board on the Highway 36 turn-lane project that is still ongoing. She noted she spoke with Matt Andrews of McLeRoy, Inc. and things are moving along, with Windstream being the only utility that remains to get a permit so construction can begin. TUIDA member Scott Blackstock commended Fletcher for her integral work on the project and stated he would like to see there be a ribbon cutting ceremony once the work is complete. Blackstock stated the turn-lane will definitely make it safer on the road with the trucks coming in and out of Interfor and it shows the many versatile things the TUIDA is capable of doing.
“I think the general public is not aware of what we do as the IDA,” said Blackstock. “You’ve really done a good job of letting people know we aren’t just about bringing in new industry and this is a perfect example of that.
Fletcher also recently served on a panel that is working on a “Rural Economic Development Handbook,” which is specifically designed for the rural communities in the state. The panel was sponsored by the Carl Vincent Institute of Government and Fletcher stated it is an A-Z on Economic Development in rural communities, which she feels will be very beneficial because the smaller, rural communities have to take a different approach when recruiting businesses than a larger city does.
Finally, the board approved the farm lease agreement for this year. Each year the TUIDA leases 180 acres that are vacant in the Industrial Park to a citizen wishing to use the land for farming. However, the lease states the land will immediately be turned back over to the IDA if a prospect wishes to locate on it before the lease is up. For the last several years, the winning bid has gone to Dar Bohnenstiehl, who was also awarded the bid for the year long lease this year.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1