News & Press
Macon featured in Georgia Trend Magazine's March issue
Enjoy the digital edition or continue reading below:
Macon/Bibb County: Forward Progress Expansions on the upswing
On the jobs front, local economic developers are starting to see an upswing in expansions and new locations. Although activity is down nearly 20 percent from 2007 and 2008, that has just meant that
“Last year in 2011 we still had five companies that we helped expand or helped locate in
Diverse businesses such as Graphic Packaging Inter-national, Image-X Enterprises and USA Discounters have been hiring new workers to keep up with the resurgence in demand in their industries. Insurance giant GEICO, which already employs 4,000 at its regional office in
Inquiries from business and industry have increased recently as well. MEDC worked with 50 projects in 2011, almost as good as the average of 55 to 60 prior to the start of the recession.
As part of its efforts to boost employment, MEDC has also helped launch a series of job fairs to bring together unemployed workers with specific skills need by companies. The effort grew out of a survey by the agency of more than 100 companies (representing more than 10,000 employees) that found many companies were having a hard time finding the workers they need, even in the face of high unemployment.
“We’re looking at identifying their needs, whether infrastructure or workforce,” says Topping. “We’ve had companies tell us that they have openings right now and are just not able to locate the qualified workers that they need.”
To remedy the problem, MEDC has worked with local technical colleges and the state Office of Workforce Development to screen workers and identify their skills to better match them with the companies that need them.
Encouragement for expanding employers has helped the process. The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Author-ity adopted a $140-million bond resolution for Graphic Packaging’s expansion. The company will be able to obtain a biomass boiler and 40-megawatt turbine at its mill. The new system will generate power from about 400,000 tons of logging waste, while adding about 10 new jobs.
The bond resolution is the first by the authority for a new restructured schedule of preapproved tax abatement. With the investment exceeding $100 million, the company got a tax abatement of as much as 60 percent over the next decade.
The tax abatements are part of a controversial restructuring effort in which the authority reclaimed its marketing role from the MEDC. The two economic development bodies clashed earlier last year when the industrial authority said it intended to hire an economic developer and take back the marketing duties delegated to the MEDC for the past 18 years. Ultimately, the two groups were able to work out an agreement to keep economic development efforts moving forward.
“That winning combination has proved to be very effective over the last five to seven years,” says
Resolving potentially embarrassing conflicts has given new life to a number of advancements here lately. A palpable sense of relief was evident after local voters gave resounding approval to a $190-million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum pushed by Mayor Robert Reichert. Along with winning a second term in 2011, he was able to claim victory on a tax that will pay for a variety of public safety, recreation and infrastructure improvements such as three additional fire stations, new and improved recreation facilities, road repairs and improvements to water and sewer facilities. Among the items was $2.5 million to help finish work on the long-delayed Tubman African American Museum on
The victory followed rejection of another SPLOST package the year before when “even I didn’t support it,” says Reichert. “The list had not been properly identified with specific projects. Instead there were only broad categories with most [funds] going into a new courthouse.”
This time projects were clearly identified and officials warned voters that failure to approve the tax would result in property tax hikes, since about $93 million of the projects were items that the city and county had to pay for no matter what.
In addition to meeting existing needs, the rest of the money is designed to jumpstart development in the city.
The projected first phase of the
“It’s huge for downtown because it connects Mercer on the west side to the Gray Highway on the [north]east and builds a bridge over the railroad, which makes it readily accessible from the Mercer campus,” says Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, one of the city’s downtown development advocates.
Reichert says that connecting
It’s a section of the city ripe for redevelopment. A consultant’s study found that between the Ocmulgee River and the Second Street bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks on the other side of downtown, 43 percent of the land is either vacant or a parking lot. Another part of the plan proposes shifting truck traffic from Second to Seventh Street, widening sidewalks, adding medians, bicycle lanes, greenery and signs for attractions, and replacing the railroad bridge.
Another study will also help determine “what is the master plan for the alignment and construction of the corridor,” says Reichert. “What infrastructure improvements should we put in that would most likely attract private development dollars into this tax allocation district. The
New Museum Site
The Tubman portion of the SPLOST will allow the noted African-American art and culture museum to finally move from its current cramped quarters into its expansive new home on
“Right now it’s 95 percent done, so the second part of the campaign was really to raise the funding necessary to complete the interior of the building, install the systems and really complete the museum,” explains museum executive director Andy Ambrose. “For us, it’s very important because we’re really seeing that this new museum is going to be the kind of anchor and centerpiece of the downtown museum district, which includes such things as the Sports Hall of Fame, the Georgia Children’s Museum and the Douglass Theatre, as well as a lot of other historic homes and attractions.”
Although it lost the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the city was able to retain the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame when NewTown Macon and the Development Authority provided funding and management for the facility. Since opening in
“We’re doing everything we can to increase visitation and ticket sales and sales in our gift store, but that’s not the solution to making these places economically viable,” says Ben Sapp, the sports hall’s interim executive director. “That’s a basic misconception that we’re trying to overcome and one that we’ve been battling for years now.”
Locals hope the new Tubman will help generate increased interest in visiting downtown. Visitors to
SPLOST dollars will also benefit the area’s biggest economic engine, Robins Air Force Base, located mostly in nearby
Those efforts got a boost with $6 million of SPLOST money designated to purchase some of the 250 parcels. The effort is vital to the future of the base because encroachment puts Robins at a disadvantage when competing with other bases for business, according to MEDC’s Topping.
Efforts to revitalize
“In the past five to 10 years, we’ve had such a focus on redeveloping downtown,” says Mechel McKinley, director of the new
A variety of new businesses ranging from high-end restaurants to web designers to custom jewelers and candle makers have located here. Three of these small operators found homes in a business incubator created by The 567 Center for Renewal on
“There are a lot of people in addition to us who have been watching this revitalization of downtown
Newcomers to the city, especially young professionals, have kept the occupancy rate for loft apartments at 95 percent, according to NewTown Macon’s Ford.
“There is an upsurge in interest, and there are lots of available properties to be developed,” he explains. “We just finished updating a marketing study that says we can add 235 new residential units each year of the next five years and not meet the demand.”
To help this effort, the Bibb County Commission agreed to back a $5-million bond issue that could result in nearly 300 new loft apartments and 74,000 square feet of commercial space over the next couple of years.
A $1.5-million grant once earmarked for the old Atlantic Cotton Mills, which burned down last spring, has been ap-proved for turning the
The private sector is also getting into the act.
To capitalize on the interest, the College Hill Corridor Commission was formed by Mercer and the city and charged with developing a master plan for the corridor. The effort was boosted in 2009 by a $5-million grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, part of which created the College Hill Alliance. This agency is working to attract new businesses and residents to the area and helping develop programming and projects for the neighborhood. The remainder of the grant funds, $3 million in the form of Knight Neighborhood Challenge grants, is being used by residents and groups to fund neighborhood improvements.
“With the diversity of the area in mind, an all-volunteer effort was made to start to create a corridor where people want to live, work, play and shop and boost the local economics of the area,” says Jessica Walden, who serves on the College Hill Corridor Commission. “One of the goals was to attract college students and keep them here after they graduate, but also to bring more people to live within downtown. It’s basically a residential gateway into downtown.”
During its first two years of operation, public and private investment totaling more than $23 million flowed into the area, according to figures released by the alliance.
Efforts are also under way to address some of the area’s big shortcomings. “The No. 1 thing people wanted on the master plan was a grocery store,” says Walden.
As the biggest city in Middle Georgia,
The group that purchased the aging Macon Mall on
Acting President & CEO
Chair, Economic Development Commission
Senior Vice President
County, 156,060 (2009)
Per Capita Income
County, 9.6 percent
Top Manufacturing Employers