Richmond Hill native Derrick Smith has replaced Steve Croy as chairman of the Development Authority of Bryan County.
Smith, currently vice president and market manager for First Bank of Coastal Georgia, took over the post in August. The low key banker replaces developer Steve Croy, who stepped down as chairman but will remain on the board after spending three years as the DABC’s leader and often its most visible member.
DABC Chief Executive Officer Anna Chafin said Croy provided leadership during a critical time in the county’s history – and was a major player in the landing of Caesarstone Technology.
“Steve Croy has given tirelessly the past three years as chairman of the Development Authority of Bryan County,” Chafin said. “He was instrumental in successfully negotiating the Caesarstone project, which is creating 180 new jobs in Belfast Commerce Centre in Richmond Hill. I know Steve will continue to be a very engaged board member, and I personally appreciate all of his guidance over the past year since I joined the DABC.”
Smith was most recently vice chairman of the DABC, and that made him a logical successor to Croy, Chafin said.
“Having been vice-chairman, Derrick Smith was a natural choice to become chairman of the DABC,” she said. “Derrick has a real passion for Bryan County, and I know he will always consider what is best for the community when making decisions. I look forward to working with Derrick in his new role.”
Smith has been a community banker in Richmond Hill for nearly 30 years. His wife, Melissa, is a paraprofessional at Richmond Hill Primary School and they have four children, two of whom still attend school here.
Smith also serves on the Citizen’s Advisory Council for the Bryan County Board of Education and is on the Small Business Advisory Board for Richmond Hill High School. He’s also a member of the Rotary Club of Richmond Hill.
Smith got involved with the DABC to “do everything in my power to make Bryan County a work place community,” he said.
“We as parents, citizens and officials spends millions of dollars educating our children, providing healthy recreational activities and facilities, a good safe community to grow up and worship in, and then when they become young adults we offer no place for them to continue their lives here,” he said. “We are structured to send them off to other communities and states to become successful.”
Smith said his goal is to “help create the environment where we don’t have to continually export our most valuable resource, our educated kids.”
Bringing new businesses and industry into Bryan County will diversify the tax base, Smith said, which eventually will give residential property owners a break.
“Securing the well-being and future of Bryan County … through diversifying its future tax base and creating jobs for its citizens will have an impact,” he said. “The immediate impact will be in the new jobs and dollars in our communities and the future impact will be when the tax abatement expires.”
Smith points to an economy which he said is recovering, meaning opportunity for Bryan County.
Recently, he and Chafin went to both Richmond Hill city officials and the Bryan County Board of Commissioners to ask for support on “Project Honey,” which apparently could mean another client at the Belfast Commerce Centre.
While Smith and Chafin have kept mum on what “Project Honey” is, he said the economy is starting to turn around.
“We are starting to be the benefactor of a recovering economy,” he said. “As our nation and state begin to climb out of this longer than anticipated recession, business and industry are poised to invest again. Be it domestic or global, they are looking to invest in the communities that are equally committed to a recovery and are prepared for the post-recession markets. Bryan County needs to be one of those markets, and we can.”
Perhaps the biggest asset the county has is its location near Savannah’s thriving port, which is among the largest in the U.S. But it’s two industrial parks – the Interstate Centre in Black Creek just of I-16 and the Belfast Commerce Centre in Richmond Hill near I-95 – are also within 20 miles of an airport, close to major interstates and there’s rail nearby as well.
“If location is the driving force for choosing the most strategic location, then Bryan County is in the driver’s seat,” Smith said.
The DABC wants industries that will provide what Smith called “the most high paying jobs available,” and also ones that are “cognizant of the environment, our resources, its citizens and our county’s reputation as a great place to call home,” he said.
But everybody wants those jobs.
“Clean manufacturing jobs are usually the ones that get the most attention but they are also being recruited by every community in the country,” Smith said.
With hundreds of development authorities looking to lure businesses and industries, those looking to invest in expansion or moving have consultants who compile lists showing what their clients want.
Those lists include location, the availability of such utilities as water and sewer and power supply, available workforce, training, tax incentives, quality of life and the cost to do business, though not necessarily in that order.
“The consultants eliminate sites, or communities, based on how many of the things are not obtainable on their client’s wish list,” Smith said. “If you are fortunate to make it to the final 2-3 sites then it becomes a viable project that we really have to go to work on.”
The competition for the jobs can be intense, and Chafin has often called it more of a “site elimination” process than one in which sites are selected.
Smith said Chafin, who was hired a year ago from the Liberty County Development Authority to replace Josh Fenn after he took a job as head of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, is one of the best in the business.
“We have the CEO in place to take us to the next level and beyond,” he said. “She has made a tremendous difference in how Bryan County is viewed in the industrial development world.”