29th Annual Georgia Quail Hunt Highlights Southwest Georgia

K.K. Snyder

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Just weeks after two tornados tore through Albany and Southwest Georgia, the Good Life City played host to the 29th Annual Georgia Quail Hunt, one of the premier economic development events in the nation and the largest for this corner of the state. 

The hunt, sponsored in partnership with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Allies, the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission and Locate South Georgia, is headquartered at Wynnfield Plantation and connects area leaders with industry heads looking to move or expand their businesses to Georgia. Through hunting and networking opportunities, prospects learn first-hand about the state’s numerous benefits for doing business here.

Governor Nathan Deal was on hand for the event, returning after his recent visit to survey the storm damage. He announced that as of Wednesday, 11 Southwest Georgia counties have received FEMA declarations for public assistance which reimburse cities, counties and the state for expenses such as debris removal and repair of roads and bridges. 

“It is certainly good to have that total package of federal assistance and we’re glad that we got those declarations,” he said, adding that the private assistance, given to affected landowners, homeowners etc., had already been declared. As to the decision to host the event in light of all the damage in the area, Governor Deal said it was a good idea. 

“We’re just going to convince (economic development prospects) this is a rare thing that has occurred, and certainly it is rare. We’re not supposed to have those kinds of storms, in this time of year anyway. So it’s an usual pattern, just as Hurricane Matthew was an unusual pattern,” said Governor Deal.

“We’ve always been able to say to economic development prospects that the state of Georgia has not been hit with a major hurricane on land for over 100 years, which was true. But Matthew ruined our record, so we’re having to contend with some unusual weather circumstances.”

Chris Clark, president/CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, says organizers talked about postponing the event because of the recent devastation but local leaders encouraged them to move forward. Not only did the area need the investment the event provides, they needed the opportunity to tell the disaster story to Georgia and the rest of the country, he said. 

Clark and others toured Albany industries Wednesday morning, including Coats & Clark, Proctor & Gamble and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, all of which received tornado damage, the extent of which can’t be expressed in news coverage and on social media like it can be when seeing it in person, he said.  

“What was remarkable is that every one of those business leaders we talked to today had the same message,” says Clark. “One, we’re keeping our employees employed. Even though we might not be operational, they’re a part of our family and we want them to be here. Two, were going to invest more. This gives us an opportunity to do things we’ve been thinking about for a while.

“The fact is they care enough about their employees and the community that they’re not using this as an opportunity to leave, which you worry about. They’re using the opportunity to double down and invest.”

About 20 business executive existing industries from Georgia and Southwest Georgia who are thinking about investing in the region were invited to attend the Albany event to learn about doing business in the region while enjoying the traditional quail hunting experience.

“It gives them a chance to know the local community and see the special quality of life of life we have…In light of what’s happened here with the devastation from the storms in the last few weeks, it gives them an opportunity to see the rebuilding going on but also to see the spirit of this community. I think that really tells the story,” said Clark.  

Participants in the Georgia Quail Hunt and the Red Carpet Tour, now in its 50th year, “have invested tens of billions of dollars into Georgia and they’ve hired tens of thousands of Georgia workers, and they’ve really made our communities what they are,” he continued.

Pat Wilson, commissioner of Georgia Department of Economic Development, says sharing Southern culture and this area of the state is an important part of business recruitment. “This is a part of the state a lot of these folks have probably never seen,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to show them the tremendous quality of life.”

Raised in a town of 750 in Northeast Georgia, Wilson says he tends to think in terms of rural Georgia rather than just Southwest Georgia, and getting people to realize the tremendous opportunities outside of Atlanta is crucial to the success of rural communities. 

“Last year we had 365 projects locate from the Department of Economic Development,” says Wilson. “Sixty-four percent of those were outside Metro Atlanta…There is something special going on in Georgia and that carries over to rural Georgia as well.”

Clark concurs.

“When you talk about economic development these days, where it used to be about location, location, location―I gotta be on the interstate, I gotta have water and sewer, all these things―these days it’s talent, talent, talent,” says Clark. 

“Having your technical colleges doing the work they’re doing, having Albany State and Georgia Southwestern and Valdosta doing the work they’re doing, that tells the story. We’ve got to get people retrained and get them back in the workforce. 

At the same time, improving K through 12 must be a priority in order to create a pipeline of talent, Clark continues. “As a community, yes, we’re rebuilding right now, but I think what we’ve got to do next is focus on what the next generation is going to be. Have we got the talent and quality of life so that these companies that are doubling down on their investment after this horrible devastation know they’re going to have the workforce here for the next 30 years?”

Governor Deal agrees.

“We’re trying to do everything it takes to encourage employers to come to parts of our state that need the jobs. That’s why education is so important and why I continue to emphasize the importance of education,” says Governor Deal, adding that over 575,000 new private sector jobs have come to Georgia during his six years as governor.

“We have to have a workforce that has the basic skills and has the extra skills that employers are looking for. Somebody who drops out of high school is not going to have a very good prospect of getting a job. 

“We’re not looking, quite frankly, for employers who are looking for high school dropouts. They want to hire a quality workforce.” 

Albany and Southwest Georgia’s infrastructure, skilled workforce and low cost of doing business make this an attractive location for industry locations and expansions, says Justin Strickland, president of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission. “Business thrives in Southwest Georgia, and we’re proud to show off our region of the state every year during the Georgia Quail Hunt, an incredible collaboration between local, regional, state and corporate partners,”

Currently, manufacturing is one of the strongest sectors in economic development in the region, said Clark, and one of the best success stories from the annual quail hunt is in the firearms sector. Several years ago organizers made the decision to invite firearm companies from up north “where they’re not friendly to the firearms, they’re not friendly to hunting, they’re not friendly to the second amendment,” he said. 

Once the companies began visiting the area and learning about doing business in Southwest Georgia, they began making commitments, with Columbus and Moultrie already receiving some investments from the industry, said Clark. 

“We’ve got several of those companies here again this week. We think that’s a great industry sector because they really understand the quality of life, and their employees like this quality of life. Quite frankly, we’re going to buy a lot of guns, a lot of ammunition and we want those folks here. That message is getting out around the country.” 

Agri-business or food processing is another strong industry sector in Southwest Georgia, bringing companies from all over the world to do business here. Those efforts are bolstered through state supported programs such as Georgia Grown, working to promote those Georgia products. Georgia Made and Georgia Locate programs will help promote products manufactured in the state as well, says Clark.  

“Our guests learn about the assets we have to offer in Georgia and the services we can provide at all stages of a company’s growth,” said 2017 Georgia Quail Hunt Chair Daryl Ingram, senior vice president of Electric Cities of Georgia. “We hope to leave them with a strong impression of why Georgia is the No. 1 state for business in the nation.” 

Organizers are looking forward to celebrating the 30th annual event next February. Corporate sponsors of the event include Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, MillerCoors, PowerSports Plus and Glock.