Construction, Film, Agriculture Among Segments Driving Growth in Georgia

Clark Byron

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Governor Deal provided an economic overview of the state’s economy Tuesday in Savannah. The comments were made at the regular monthly meetings of the World Trade Center- Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority.

Deal offered some history on the state’s rich industrial past, and its precipitous decline. “We had been a part of the old Textile Belt, but many of those jobs have disappeared and gone to lower wage countries around the world,” he said. “We decided that if we could do what was recommended, and that is to roll back and eliminate sales tax on energy used for manufacturing, we would see manufacturing grow in our state, and that has been truly remarkable.”

Citing shining examples of Georgia’s resurgence as a manufacturing state, the Governor said, “We all know that Caterpillar has decided to move a plant out of Japan to Athens, Ga., and Baxter International, a major pharmaceutical company, has made the single largest capital investment of $1 billion on the High Point, east of Atlanta, in the Newton County / Walton County area, providing about 1,800 jobs across our state.” But there have been many more, he said. “Virtually every week we have announcements of 200 or 300; sometimes 50 or 100 new jobs coming to our state. That’s a good thing, because communities who have suffered during this great recession are beginning to see new jobs come their way.”

One of the more interesting examples Deal highlighted is in Screven County. Deal described it as, “. . . one of those resurrections of the textile industry.” An India-based textile company had a groundbreaking a couple of weeks ago. “I asked them, ‘What are you going to do?’ They said, ‘We’re going to buy Georgia-grown cotton, we’re going to spin it, and we’re going to export it through the Port of Savannah, all around the world.’” Deal also cited another textile manufacturer who announced this past week that it was bringing another 100 jobs to Georgia. “We are seeing, not only a revival of the old textile industry,” said Deal, “but of many other diversified industries throughout our state.”

One of the better signs that we are moving out of this recession is with regard to construction. Georgia was a fast growing state when the recession hit, and when it hit, it did not come gradually. It came like a tidal wave. It put developers who were trying to develop subdivisions and many of those who were trying to develop commercial properties, out of business. Construction came to almost an absolute stop.

Says Deal, “We’re seeing new commercial construction in place. I had a conversation with someone the other day who said, ‘We want to bring our company to your state but we can’t find a building large enough to accommodate us.’ I said, ‘Just stay put. I’ve got plenty of folks who are able to help you with that problem.’ That’s a good problem to have.”

“What we are seeing happening in our state in what we refer to as the flooring industry.” he said. “Because of the nature of the recession, they got hit harder than any other industry in our state because if nobody’s building anything, they’re not going to be selling any carpeting or flooring materials. [The flooring industry] has seen an absolute positive resurgence.” 

Deal pointed out that, “In the last year, we have seen announcements of between 3,000 and 4,000 new jobs created in the flooring industry, including two new plants that are supposed to be built – one in Whitfield County and the other on the adjoining Murray County.”

As for continued international interest in Georgia, the most recent one has been on the part of a Belgian-based company. “We went on an economic development trip to Israel a month or so ago, and went through Belgium on the way back because we knew this company was interested in coming to Georgia,” said Deal. “They are a manufacturer of high-quality vinyl. We’ve already had the groundbreaking for their new facility in Cartersville, with some 250 new jobs anticipated.”

Part of Deal’s trip to Israel brought some good news for the Savannah area specifically. “We had two companies, both Israel based, that will be coming to the area,” he announced. “One is a manufacturer of countertops. They use quartz as their basic ingredient. They grind it up and blend it with compounds and put it under pressure. They produce these large slabs of a quartz-based material.” Deal said the company will be building a plant in Richmond Hill. “It’s going to be a nice facility and you would not believe the quality of that product. They can make it look like anything you want it to. They also intend to export using the Port of Savannah.” 

The second Israeli company is smaller but possesses great significance and promise for growth. Haifa Chemical, a manufacturer of timed-release fertilizer, will be building a smaller facility in the Savannah area, according to Deal. “I believe they will experience great success with that,” he said. “If they do, that will be the foot-in-the-door which allows them to expand and create more jobs for our state.”

The Governor shared some recent statistics from the Georgia Department of Economic Development that illustrate the successful partnership between the GDED and SEDA. In all of Chatham County, the partnership has undertaken 50 different projects, resulting in $362 million in capital investment and 1,755 new jobs.

Deal also offered some clarification on unemployment rates. “Our state’s unemployment rate is higher than I would like it to be,” he began, “but Georgia ranks 12th in the country in the greatest reduction of unemployment.” This is a decrease that is significantly greater than the national average, according to Deal. “One of the considerations that impact a state’s unemployment rate is the size of its workforce,” he said. “Some of our neighboring states have lower rates of unemployment have actually lost numbers in their workforce.” 

The Governor also pointed out that Georgia is the third largest filmmaking state in the country, behind California and New York. Latest estimates, reported Deal, are that Georgia’s film industry adds about $5.1 billion annually to the state’s economy. “The film industry was one of the successes we have enjoyed as a state. We have had a film tax credit. Those credits can now be sold (monetized) to raise large amounts of production capital,” he said.

“He’s done a fantastic job as Governor, I must say,” said Trip Tollison, president and CEO of SEDA. “One of the things in our role in economic development that we are most proud of is what the Governor and his staff have done to make Georgia the best place in the country to do business.”