Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you came to be involved in the Bryan County Development Authority.
I have been a resident of Bryan County for 18 years and I am a native of Savannah. I have been married to my wife, Laura, for the past 26 years and we have two beautiful daughters, Lauren and Shannon. The only time that I lived outside of this area was when I attended Georgia Tech and upon graduation, I quickly returned to Coastal Georgia. I am currently the President and CEO of Register International which is a marine logistics firm that specializes in shipping of agri-bulk and project cargoes to the Caribbean and Central America.About 10 years ago, I was a consultant to an export company that I assisted in locating to Bryan County. After my consulting job was finished, I was approached by then commissioner Al Dixon and he asked me if I would be interested in serving on the North Bryan Development Authority. I readily agreed and have been serving on the Authority ever since. Several years ago the two development authorities, North and South, merged to form the current Bryan County Development Authority.
Let’s say you have been asked to give a talk to an audience that has no clue what the BCDA is or what it is responsible for. What will you say?
The Development Authority’s primary purpose is to supply prospective businesses with the information and infrastructure necessary for them to make the definitive decision on locating or retaining their business in Bryan County.
How does one serve on the BCDA? Who makes up the BCDA and who do you as a board answer to? Further, how do you get your funding and how much do you operate on annually?
If a person wishes to serve on the DABC they should convey their wish to serve to the Board of Commissioners. They can submit their name to Phil Jones, the county administrator, and he will forward them to the Board. The DA Board is made up of nine members that represent the two municipalities and the county as a whole. The DA Board keeps the Board of Commissioners abreast of all business recruitment/retention and the DA is ultimately responsible to the residents of Bryan County. The Development Authority meets once a month and works to recruit and maintain businesses to all of Bryan County.
We obtain our funding through an intergovernmental agreement with the Board of Commissioners. Currently, we operate on a little over $500,000 annually which is far less than the funding that our neighboring counties receive.
How does the BCDA do its job? Let’s start with the type of industries you look for, and how do you find potential industry?
The DABC markets Bryan County on a full time basis to prospective clients on a national and international level. We have an executive director, Josh Fenn, who keeps our name in front of site selection consultants and economic development agencies. Georgia Power, Canoochee EMC, Coastal EMC, the railroads, Georgia Ports Authority, and the Georgia Economic Development Authority generate a vast majority of our leads and for this we are very appreciative. We are constantly making contacts that we hope will choose Bryan County as their new location for their business. We only go after industries that make sense for our area and will be conducive to our way of life and resources. We have a set of covenants and restrictions that all clients must adhere to if they locate in our current industrial park, Interstate Centre.
What do you require of someone who wants to set up shop in Bryan County?
First, the business has to make sense for Bryan County – it has to provide adequate employment, solid investment, have financial stability, and desires to be a positive corporate entity.
Once you find an ideal candidate, how do you convince them – if convincing is required -- they want to be here? It all can’t be the climate, the people and the proximity to I-16 and Savannah. What economic incentives do you offer?
We tell all prospects of the great things that Bryan County has to offer: stable government, excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, recreation, and overall quality of life. Prospects are looking for reasons to exclude your site and we are explaining the positive qualities of Bryan County and why they should locate here.
As for incentives, we offer them on a limited basis according to the firm’s financial investment in our county, the number of jobs that will be created, and the long range tax base that will be generated. Incentives have become commonplace in the economic development field and our neighboring competitors (Liberty and Effingham counties) go to great lengths in the incentive package field. Incentives such as industrial revenue bonds, graduated tax abatements, state /federal grants, and employment tax credits are given depending on the positive impact that the industry will generate by coming to Bryan County.Let’s talk about the successes for a second. The Black Creek Industrial Centre, for example, saw the addition of about 500 jobs in recent years if my math is right. You’ve also got a $25 million spec building sitting alongside I-16 waiting for a client or multiple clients, thanks to your partnership with Atlanta-based Technology Park Atlanta. There are a number of things you guys can hang your hat on. In your view, what has led to the successes?
Our success story is basically due to two factors. First, we have a dedicated, effective, and business minded Board of Directors made up of Bryan County citizens. They work extremely well together and have the best "let’s get the job done and make this happen" attitude that I have ever seen. They devote their time and effort to insure that Bryan County stays on course in the economic development arena. They have been able to work with very limited financial resources and still compete with the surrounding counties. They also have a very capable staff that coordinates the marketing efforts so we make the best presentation possible to the potential client. Secondly, our local government, the Board of Commissioners has been very supportive of the work that we do. They realize that our efforts are to increase the availability of the local workforce, generate commercial investment within the county’s borders, and ultimately increase the tax base. Without the Board of Commissioners’ support the Interstate Centre would not be the first class industrial park that it is today.
Has the BCDA been close to landing other clients, only to see them go elsewhere?
Yes, we have been very close on several occasions to landing other clients. Sometimes these clients will disclose why they chose another location and sometimes they will not respond at all. When we deal with these clients everything must be confidential – they (the client) do not want it out in the public that they are even looking at re-locating their business. A leak of a client’s name (to the public or the media) can eliminate you immediately from the prospect list.
Most people tend to think of the Black Creek Interstate Centre as THE industrial park in Bryan County – but aren’t you also are hoping to lure industry to other areas as well?
The Interstate Centre is the main industrial park in Bryan County. We constantly show other properties (both public and private) to prospects interested in our area. We have begun to work with TerraPointe on marketing their 1100 acre industrial tract on Belfast Siding Road in South Bryan County.
How much has the economic climate impacted your efforts to lure clients to the community?
The current economic climate has slightly impacted the number of prospects coming our way. Even though we are in tough economic times we are still receiving prospective clients. We have had at least 3 site visits within the last 60 days and many firms believe that now (when things are down) is the best time to invest in equipment and facilities. The State has been receiving a sizable amount of leads and we are receiving our share of those leads. Atlanta now realizes in a big way what Bryan County has to offer.
Break out your crystal ball for a second. Where do you think Bryan County will be in 20 years in terms of jobs?
I would hope that in 20 years that there would be a lot less daily traffic on Hwy. 17 and Interstates 16 and 95 due to the industrial efforts of today. The reduction in traffic would be less Bryan County citizens having to commute to Savannah and the surrounding areas to go to work. These citizens would be driving to work in the county where they reside. We would have an abundance of local, quality jobs and therefore almost every dollar will be generated and spent within Bryan County.
Your tenure as chairman is up and board member Ted Akins is replacing you. What advice would you give him?
My advice to Ted is to keep on the same path that we have forged. I don’t have a lot to tell him because he knows first hand what needs to be done from this point forward. He will be a good facilitator between the DA and the economic development agencies. He will do an excellent job as Chairman of the Authority. He has been very instrumental in helping the Authority deal with infrastructure contracts, finances, staffing, etc. I look forward to working with him regarding all Authority issues.
One last thing. I’ve heard a number of folks comment on the spelling on Black Creek’s Interstate Centre – rather than using the American spelling ‘center.’ How did that come about?
I’m the one to blame for the spelling of "Centre." The Interstate Centre is a name that I proposed when we were planning the park. I had seen the word "centre" for upscale office parks in and around major metropolitan cities. I thought that it conveyed class or a step above the rest. The word is not misspelled and has definitely generated some attention.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Many of us chose to live in Bryan County because of the quality of life: excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, responsible local government, recreation, natural resources, etc.
But there is one more factor that is rapidly being discovered around the state and nation and that is: Bryan County is a great location for business and industry. With the success of the Interstate Centre, Bryan County has landed on the economic development radar and once prospective clients see what we have to offer, the Interstate Centre almost sells itself.
The Interstate Centre (I and II) is located near the intersection of I-16 and highway 280. The Centre is owned by the Bryan County Development Authority and was dedicated in April 2008. Interstate Centre I was developed by the BCDA (500 acres) and Interstate Centre II (505 acres) is being developed through a partnership with Technology Park Atlanta. The industrial park is located on either side of highway 280 east and runs parallel to I-16. The Centre is approximately 12 miles from I-95 and 2o miles from the Georgia Port Authority’s container terminal, and 15 miles from the Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport. The Centre has fiber optics, natural gas availability, electricity, municipal water and sewage facilities on site.
Bryan County is a prime location for businesses to call home considering that within our county’s borders there is access to an abundant labor pool, excellent housing, and top-notch educational opportunities. Having these great assets create a place where business and industry leaders feel confident about expanding business and relocating their families.
The Port of Savannah has been and still is the economic engine that is sending many prospective clients to our Interstate Centre. Our local port is the fastest growing and fourth largest container port in the United States. The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has recently started marketing the "I-16 Corridor" as the next growth sector for business to locate between Savannah and Macon. The Interstate Centre is so far the most successful industrial park along this corridor. The port’s success, under the direction of the GPA, has been the best marketing partner that Bryan County could ever have and we can never thank them enough. Other groups, such as Georgia Power and the Georgia Dept of Economic Development, have also been instrumental in sending prospective clients our way and deserve great thanks also. These agencies and firms come together as the best economic and industrial sales force for the Interstate Centre and Bryan County as a whole.
On an historical note, Bryan County was left far behind in the industrial development contest for many years. But through the efforts of a dedicated Board of Directors, our professional staff, and the support of our local elected officials, we are catching up with great speed. We have had a disadvantage inasmuch as adjacent counties, such as Effingham and Liberty, started the industrial development process many years before us and receive more funding on an annual basis than we do. The BCDA through its staff and directors has been able to produce a quality product and compete in the industrial development arena by volunteering their time and business expertise to accomplish the construction and marketing of the Interstate Centre.
In recent years, the BCDA has been very successful in attracting many businesses to the Interstate Centre. These clients include:
ORACAL USA- adhesive film producer
Daniel Defense, Inc. – firearms and components manufacturer
ONEIDA – tableware distribution center
Dicon Technologies – Biotech and health products manufacturer / distributor
DKW Logistics – warehousing and distribution (Kawasaki recreational products)
Blue Bell Creameries – ice cream distribution facility
LaFarge USA – concrete production facility
Spec Building – 603,000 sqft – Technology Park Atlanta
As our client list grows, Bryan County will benefit by the growth of the industrial tax base and the jobs (at present 500 plus) that will come with each and every new business. These businesses will spend monies (whether in wages, taxes, services and supplies) that will be turned over many times within our county’s boundaries. The jobs created will insure that there will be employment opportunities for current residents and the youth that go through our excellent school system. This job creation will give Bryan County’s graduates (from high school, vocational schools, or college) the opportunity to work in the area where they were brought up and ultimately raise there family.
It’s an exciting time in Bryan County’s economic future. A strong work ethic, deep sense of family and community with access to resources and markets make us a highly desirable place for business expansion and relocation. Few places offer the whole package: transportation, natural resources, recreation, abundant labor, educational opportunities And effective government. It’s a home for families, it’s a place for business, and it’s where both can thrive.
I welcome all Bryan County residents and of course prospective businesses to come see the most impressive industrial park that is generating positive returns for Bryan County – now and in the future.