If jobs are the most important thing the community needs, then what are we going to do for economic development to help bring industry to the area? That is the question Frank King, who serves on the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority, had for the rest of the board at their August meeting. King stated the Thomaston-Upson community has many factors that work against it when it comes to attracting businesses, but one thing that can be controlled is the incentives the TUIDA can give those looking to locate here.
“We have every indicator we are doing badly,” began King. “Property tax digest is down, the sales tax digest is down, school enrollment is down and we have high unemployment. Everybody says we’ve got to have jobs; well for the 20th time in the 21 years I have lived here, there is no incentive money for economic development and that is the one thing we can control.”
He noted in addition to not having incentive money, the TUIDA also has several other issues it is facing. For example, the TUIDA has around $1.5 million in debt it is trying to pay off and instead of putting the money that is left in the TUIDA budget at the end of the year towards paying that debt off, Upson County and the City of Thomaston are requiring the unused funding be returned to the entities. He also stated there is a great need for a better workforce, with nearly 30 percent of people in the community not having a high school diploma or a GED, but that is something that will take longer than two to three years to be changed.
King went onto say that in the two years he has served on the TUIDA, there has not been any real interest in the community from prospects. He stated our location and the proximity to an interstate has a lot to do with things, but those are not factors we can change. However, having a competitive incentive package is something that could help set us apart from other communities in the state.
E. Jane Caraway, a Project Manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, was present at the meeting and stated that it is true you have to have something to offer businesses as a reason to come to your community, because we are not in competition with just other communities in the state, but on a national and global level as well. She told the board it is important to look for ways to offset location, as many industries do first look for proximity to an interstate when narrowing down locations. However, the best way to do that is to monetize it in some form, because cash truly is still king when it comes to these things.
“We either have to decide we are going to keep kicking the can down the road and just stay like we are or the one thing we can control is incentive money,” said King. “We can go after and try to build a good economic development package -of course we’ve got to get out of debt first – but then we can say ‘Mr. Economic Development, we’ve got $2 million we can offer somebody.’ That’s the only way I know that we can overcome the barriers, is to try and have an incentive package. Somewhere, somebody has to say economic development is a priority and we are going to show it. That is all I am saying.”
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1