The new projection system the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority installed at the local airport was put to good use when an international prospect flew into Upson County earlier this month. Executive Director Kyle Fletcher told the board at their meeting last Monday that she and E. Jane Caraway, Project Manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, were able to make a presentation about the area and discuss state and local incentives before taking the prospect on a tour around town. The meeting lasted from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. which Fletcher noted is the longest she had ever had with a prospect, and during that time they toured the spec building, Triumph, Lakeside and Blackstock buildings. The prospect is exploring textile opportunities in the southeast and will likely be back in the area sometime next month; however the project is in the infancy stages. She also noted this prospect was referred to the area through a consultant, not the state.
However, Fletcher is also busy keeping Thomaston and Upson County on the radar of project managers at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which has her traveling to Atlanta several times a month to meet with them. She was accompanied by TUIDA board member Steve Daniel earlier this month, when the pair made a presentation to 17 project manager to update them on our community. Fletcher stated she had wanted to hold that meeting since last fall, but with the changing of the Commissioner for Economic Development, the department asked for it to be put off until the first quarter of the year.
Daniel stated he and Fletcher went over who we are as a community with the project managers and why we should be on their radar when it comes to locating an industry.
“We hit all our points and I think they were pretty impressed to hear about the millage that has been dedicated to economic development,” he said.
He continued, noting the dedicated funding has been pointed out as putting Thomaston and Upson County “in the game” when it comes to economic development and he feels it definitely helped to gain the attention of the project managers.
“We say it was a successful meeting, but I guess we will know in the coming months and years if we hit on their radar. As they said, it is all about networking and keeping your name out there.”
Although they may not know exactly how well things will pan out this time, Fletcher noted they did receive some unsolicited feedback from two project managers on the Beretta project. Although the company ultimately decided not to locate in Upson County, Fletcher and Daniel were told that of the five communities in Georgia that were looked at, Thomaston-Upson County gave the best presentation. Fletcher stated they were told the presentation given by the TUIDA was the most prepared and talked in terms of actual numbers and incentives rather than just a basic overview.
“We didn’t ask questions or mention it, they just added those comments on their own,” said Fletcher. “It was a team effort and exciting to hear.”
During the meeting, board member Scott Blackstock passed out information from the state development authority on what is most needed when it comes to attracting prospects. He stated the top two things that are looked for are local incentives and a capable workforce. He noted that the local school system has done remarkably lately and is close to if not at the state average, but something that could help put them over the edge is a career academy that would give students the opportunity to get a two-year associates degree while still in high school.
Blackstock noted this would be different than the dual enrollment program the school system currently has in place with Southern Crescent Technical College because it would be more of an apprenticeship program, where students would be learning a specific skill set. Steve Daniel agreed that the dual enrollment program is going extremely well, with Upson having the strongest enrollment rate in the nine counties that SCTC serves; however, he feels that having a college career academy would take things to the next level for students in the area. While students are being bused to SCTC for the dual enrollment program now, typically a career academy would be built closer to or at the high school so students would be allowed to take just one or two classes instead of spending half the day at the college. The rest of the board members agreed that this could be something beneficial for our community and should the school board decide to pursue it, they would be supportive of the effort.
In other business, the TUIDA was offered eight hours of free engineering services by the engineering firm Williams and Associates. The firm is interested in building relationships around the state with economic development authorities and Fletcher stated they have worked with the Meriwether County Industrial Development Authority and their Executive Director, Jane Fryer, speaks highly of them. TUIDA Attorney Joel Bentley cautioned the board that the services were likely not to be completely free of charge, noting they offered eight hours of general services subject to terms and conditions. He continued stating the TUIDA could end up paying for things that are considered associated charges under the underlying agreement, such as accommodations for those involved. That being said, he noted no one else has offered eight hours of service to the community and he feels it may be a good idea to work with the firm. The board agreed to work with the firm, per Bentley negotiating a contract with them.
Finally, Fletcher announced she is still looking into liability insurance for the TUIDA. She has filled out the paperwork for two companies and is waiting on getting a quote back. Bentley had suggested the board have a policy in place.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1