03/12/2012

THE LITTLE ENGINE OF NORTHEAST GEORGIA

Just like the little engine that could, sometimes you just have to keep working. That’s exactly what Elberton  and Elbert County  are doing, and they are seeing some outstanding results!

In 2008 the county lost one major industry after another with the closure of Honeywell and SR Plastics. Several companies laid off employees, including Pilgrims’ Pride (due to a major fire), Carlisle Coating and Waterproofing. Many of the area granite companies, an industrial mainstay in Elbert County, were suffering.

Located at the South Carolina border, a small, largely rural community of about 20,000, Elbert County is often called the “Granite Capital of the World.” The county is dependent on the granite quarrying and finishing industry for the majority of its employment, so the loss of these major industries was devastating. Communities across the country have been losing jobs , but with more than 300 jobs missing and an unemployment rate of 15%, Elbert County was one of the state’s most distressed “Tier 1” counties.

Despite its few resources, Elberton could rely on its strong community spirit to endure. It became the first Work Ready Certified Community of Excellence  in December 2009. The Elbert County Campus of Athens Technical College serves more than 500 students yearly and produces a skilled workforce for industry – a workforce which is a key asset for economic development.

Under the leadership of a young and gifted economic development professional, Anna Grant Jones, the Executive Director for the Development Authority of Elbert County, Elberton and Bowman, the community began to see progress.  They worked with the state’s Department of Community Affairs, coming up with a plan of action through the Communities of Opportunity program.  They scraped together the money to market the community, first to the statewide project management teams and then internationally. And what’s more, in 2009, Jones participated in a trade mission to Hannover, Germany calling on multinational companies at a large industrial trade show.

That trip brought several strong leads – which she followed up on. One lead was a German supplier for BMW and Volkswagen called Moeller Tech, which purchased the 130,000 sf former Torrington/SR Plastics building in 2010. The 275-year-old family business began operation in Elbert in late 2010. The company now employs 75 and continues to grow. This summer Moeller Tech celebrated its first year of operation with an open house and picnic for the community.

2010 also saw growth in Elbert County’s existing industries. Bubba Foods, a home-grown producer of certified Angus Beef “Bubba Burgers,” added a 33,000 sf, $3.5 million freezer and storage facility along with a new processing line. The financing for this project was achieved through a bond issued by the Development Authority.

The Development Authority, along with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, also worked with local company Pamas & Co. as they applied for gap financing through an Appalachian Regional Commission revolving loan fund.  It was successfully received in 2010 and that company works continually to grow.

Jones visited Germany again in the fall of 2011 and returned with news of an investment by wind turbine component manufacturer Hailo, a company out of Haiger, Germany.  Hailo selected the 80,000 sf Pattillo building for a $10 million investment that will create 200 jobs.

And finally, after recovering from a contained fire in September 2010, Pilgrim’s Pride invested $18.5 million in equipment and a new “fully cooked” line in 2011.

One of the most outstanding strengths of this Development Authority is how well it works in partnership with its local governmental entities. The City of Elberton and Elbert County are instrumental in providing support for the Authority’s incentives. The elected officials work together, with one strong voice promoting Elbert County – this is one of the most important parts of community economic development!

Despite these hurdles, creative, determined leadership and a willingness to work together have triumphed in Elberton.  The “little engine” of Elberton and Elbert County knows there is a lot of work to do and they continue to be a model Georgia community as they market their home and all its advantages.

Susie Haggard
Project Manager, Existing Industry and Regional Recruitment
Region 5, East Metro

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For more information on Georgia’s public-private business partnerships, contact the Georgia Department of Economic Development at 404.962.4000.

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