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Business parks help keep Macon-Bibb County in economic development game

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Most prospective new industries and businesses come to town looking for an existing building.

But to land the really big fish, you need, well, land.

The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority has six industrial parks. Five of those parks have tracts of open land that are marketed to prospects. The parks don’t just come together overnight. Putting in the needed infrastructure -- water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, roads -- takes time, and there are hurdles that must be cleared, such as environmental testing and zoning.

“It takes about 10 years to purchase and develop a site,” said Stephen Adams, project manager for the authority. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible on companies if they want to relocate here. ... Very rarely is a company not looking at us. We have to stay ready.”

The industrial authority has 39 parcels of about 1,000 acres, said authority Executive Director Maceo Rogers. One of the authority’s strategic goals adopted last year is to add more property. In the meantime, the authority is sprucing up the signs and landscapes at the existing parks.

“We have to try to continually replenish the inventory as we sell it off,” Rogers said. “It’s not that you just go out and purchase property. In order to really make that site attractive to industry and appealing to a company, you’re not just looking at virgin land. You’re looking at property that has those amenities nearby.”

Sometimes, the parks are built from the ground up. Sofkee Industrial Park on Allen Road is one of just 17 GRAD (Guaranteed Ready for Accelerated Development) sites in Georgia. GRAD sites are certified as having cleared criteria such as topographical, geotechnical and environmental testing, investigations for cultural resources and endangered species, zoning and clear ownership.

“Projects now are so fast-paced,” said Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission. “Companies that are coming to look at a site, that site has to be more developed than it could have been in the past.”

Sofkee’s shovel-readiness was key in Korean tire manufacturer Kumho picking the park for its proposed $225 million plant, which has been delayed due to the poor economy.

“We would not have stayed in the hunt for that project if the site had not been GRAD certified,” said Topping. “We were able to answer all the questions that they asked on a very timely basis.

“The companies want us to reduce risk. It could be a risk factor if there are no utilities on the site. You may say, ‘Well they’re just down to street. There’s no problem bringing them up.’ Well, there could be.”

The authority also has rehabbed properties into industrial parks. Ocmulgee East Industrial Park was the former Camp Wheeler, an Army base during World Wars I and II.

Allied Industrial Park, which is unique in that it is mostly existing buildings that have been reworked for new industries and businesses, was a naval ordnance plant.

“We’ve turned a lot of old sites that otherwise may have never been developed and tried to turn them into something positive,” said Adams.

Of course, location is another big marketing plus. I-75 Business Park is adjacent to Interstate 75. Airport East and Airport South Industrial Parks are near Middle Georgia Regional Airport. And all the parks are about 75 miles from the airport in Atlanta and about 150 miles from port in Savannah.

“We’re smack dab in the middle of the state,” said Rogers.

Access to I-16, I-75 and I-475 are also big pluses, he said.

Topping, who serves as the initial point of contact for companies and for state and other economic development officials, said 80 percent of prospects start out looking for existing buildings. Also, more than 70 percent of projects in Bibb County involve privately owned buildings or property.

“Certainly the industrial authority projects that we work are usually the larger projects, the ones that require a site,” Topping said.

Rarely will a community win over a prospect on a initial visit. The key is staying in the game.

“Economic development is a process of elimination,” Topping said, “and if you don’t have what the company -- the prospect -- is looking for, whether that’s an existing building or an existing site that they can build a building on, then you don’t get to the next step. That’s why it’s important to have a good variety of sites.”

Not all industrial or development authorities own land, which Rogers said gives Macon and Bibb an advantage.

“We can control and call the shots,” Rogers said. “We have to envision and anticipate opportunities. We know it’s going to happen. We have to remain focused and poised on what we do and tell our story that Macon, Georgia, is a great place to do business.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.



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