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Bryan County officials look to move on from Volvo

Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed awoke early Monday morning to a phone call with news he didn’t want.

Luxury automaker Volvo announced that it had not chosen Bryan County as the site for is first American plant, opting instead to build the $500 million manufacturing facility near Charleston, South Carolina.

“It was disappointing because of the amount of work that we had put into it,” Burnsed said. “And we just felt like we had a better product.”
What ultimately swung Volvo’s decision, Burnsed surmised, was that “South Carolina apparently outbid us on incentives.” South Carolina reportedly offered more than $200 million in state and local incentives to land the Chinese-owned, Sweden-based carmaker.

“That might be what really swayed the whole thing,” Burnsed said. “We were told our site was a very preferred site, so we were very hopeful. But we didn’t get it.”

Burnsed also chairs the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, a combined effort by Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham and Effingham counties to attract and facilitate projects significant to the region. Development Authority of Bryan County Chairman Derrick Smith also serves on the joint authority, which formed in January.

Collaborating to recruit Volvo to Bryan County was the first project the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor joint authority worked from start to finish, according to Development Authority of Bryan County CEO Anna Chafin.

“While we definitely wanted to win this project and create the associated jobs and investment in our region, I think the (joint authority) should be proud that we competed so well for a project of this magnitude so quickly after formalizing,” she said.

Volvo officials first visited Bryan County in late September, Chafin said. The site selection process “really intensified” in late February, she said, and concluded earlier this month.

“For 12 weeks, we had numerous meetings with company representatives discussing everything from the site and workforce to logistics and quality of life,” Chafin said. “This project required several of us at the local and state level to practically work seven days a week for 12 weeks.”

Burnsed agreed that local and state leaders did all they could to land Volvo in Bryan County. He praised the efforts by Gov. Nathan Deal, Chafin, county staff, the joint authority, the Savannah Economic Development Authority and consulting firm Thomas & Hutton, among others.

“I can’t fault anybody,” Burnsed said. “It was a team effort. We were united and we went with it full-bore and did the best we could, so it’s a shame we didn’t get it.”

The South Carolina plant will produce up to 100,000 cars per year with the first vehicles expected to roll off the assembly line in 2018, according to the news release Volvo issued Monday. The plant reportedly will provide about 4,000 jobs and attract a number of related manufacturers.

“Economic development, of course, is what we need in our area, and it would have been a wonderful,” Pembroke Mayor Mary Warnell said. “I can’t even imagine what it would have done for this section of our state — in addition to Bryan County, for the neighboring counties — and for the number of jobs that would have been available.”

What’s next for ‘megasite’?

Had Georgia landed the Volvo plant, it would have been built in northern Bryan County. The Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor authority applied last month to the Army Corps of Engineers and the state for permission to build a 1,900-acre “megasite” at Interstate 16 and Highway 280 in Black Creek.

The plans for the site “are still to be determined,” Chafin said Tuesday. Burnsed added that he is ready to put behind the disappointment of Volvo’s decision and look ahead to the next industrial prospect.

“It’s done and it’s over with, so we’ll go on,” he said. “We’re still told by the Georgia Department of Economic Development that we have a tremendous site and that somebody else will be looking at it. We’re still hopeful.”

The DABC will continue to market Bryan County as a “great place” to work, live and raise a family, Chafin said.

“We will leverage the fact that Bryan County is home to two shovel-ready interstate industrial parks, Interstate Centre on I-16 and Belfast Commerce Centre on I-95, that are less than 30 minutes from the Port of Savannah,” she said. “Hopefully, we have received some good exposure for Bryan County and the region from the Volvo project that will help attract additional interest in our area.”

As did Chafin and Burnsed, Warnell used the word “disappointed” in describing Volvo’s decision. She, too, looked for a silver lining.

“Perhaps this means that the doors will open for another one,” Warnell said.

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