The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, Ogeechee Technical College and the Development Authority of Bulloch County announced a proposal Tuesday to build a 36,000-square-foot Georgia Industrial Systems and Industrial Robotics Training Campus on land to be given by the development authority not far from the OTC main campus.
Suggested as potentially resembling the Alabama Robotic Technology Park in Tanner, Alabama, the facility would be the first of its kind in Georgia. It would triple Ogeechee Tech’s available space for training in robotics, industrial systems and related skillsets and allow for expansion of training relationships with employers, such as those the college already has with the world’s largest manufacturing robotics maker, FANUC, and largest online retailer, Amazon.
“Ultimately, the main goal is to use this facility to help create what we could call high-paying job opportunities that would occur as a result of trying to attract and retain advanced manufacturing, not only for our community but for the region,” said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch, who works for the county commissioners.
Couch and Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson suggested that this facility could help maximize the industrial development advantage area leaders hope to gain from the 2,284-acre Bryan County Mega Site. The state government provided most of the money that the four-county Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority needed to close on the $61 million purchase of the site near Ellabell in July.
“It sits just outside the county line further down I-16, and we know if they can get an electric vehicle manufacturer down there, then we’re going to get a lot of suppliers coming to Bulloch County and that’s going to equate to a lot of tax dollars and money coming into Bulloch County,” Thompson said.
He represents Bulloch County on the board of the joint authority, which includes Chatham, Bryan, Bulloch and Effingham counties.
The individual development authorities of a different set of counties – Bulloch, Evans and Screven – were represented at Tuesday’s announcement because those three counties constitute Ogeechee Technical College’s official service area. Development leaders from Evans and Screven expressed similar hopes for regional benefits from the proposed Industrial Systems and Industrial Robotics Training Campus.
So did OTC President Lori Durden.
OTC already does it
“As a leading – and I say that proudly – provider of non-credit industrial systems and industrial robotics training in the state, Ogeechee Technical College is uniquely positioned to provide the training required to retain and attract advanced manufacturing to this area, and we all know that’s a very important sector of our economy,” Durden said. “The training that would be housed in this facility is already going on, on our campus.”
Under a program launched in March, Amazon employees from across the country spend 12 weeks in the Amazon Mechatronics and Robotics Apprenticeship Training program at Ogeechee Tech and leave with four certifications for their Amazon careers. OTC is one of five colleges in the nation contracted for this program, and the only one in Georgia.
Japan-based industrial robotics manufacturer FANUC in 2020 certified Ogeechee Tech as a FANUC Authorized Training Site, one of five in the country, and also the only one in Georgia.
The proposed new one-building campus will allow Ogeechee Technical College to expand both its industrial systems and industrial robotics training programs, said OTC Vice President for Economic Development Jan Moore.
“We foresee an increasing demand for that training with the mega site on the way, and this is a unique opportunity by which we can prepare for that,” Moore said. “But we’re already seeing increasing demand without the mega site being developed, so if you project that out, we will need much more space than we currently have.”
Design firm hired
The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners last week unanimously hired Goodwyn Mills Cawood, the architecture and engineering firm that designed the Alabama Robotic Technology Park, to design the facility here for a base fee of $54,472. Couch said that could potentially increase to about $70,000 if the county government adds some optional services.
Beyond the design, the county government intends to use its staff’s experience in applying for and administering grants to obtain federal money for the construction and manage the project, Couch said. With the building not yet designed or funded, the actual cost is not known, but in an interview he said he could envision a price tag of about $10 million for a structure of this size and sophistication.
The exact acreage that the Development Authority of Bulloch County will be providing isn’t known yet either, said the authority’s CEO Benjy Thompson. But he described the site in the existing Gateway Industrial Park as fronting U.S. Highway 301 in the area just south of the current East Georgia State College campus to the corner of A.J. Riggs Road.
Although on the other side of the highway, the industrial park is not far from the OTC main campus.
The county will be seeking a State Recovery Fund grant through the governor’s office for the project, Couch said. This is ultimately American Rescue Plan Act money that Georgia received from the federal government. Bulloch’s application for this project will probably be under the “negative economic impact” category, and county officials intend to contract with an arm of Georgia Southern University for a study showing the extent and value of industrial job losses in the area, Couch said.
About 200 jobs are being lost with the announced closure by year-end of architectural glass manufacturer Viracon’s long-established Statesboro plant, also in the Gateway Industrial Park.
The county government may also serve as fiscal agent for Ogeechee Tech in applying for a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for equipment, Couch said.
The campus building could also include “state of the art office space” to become
“an appropriate home” for the Development Authority of Bulloch County, he said. The DABC currently occupies upstairs rooms at a bank in Statesboro.
Both grants could be awarded by early next year, but there is no timetable for construction yet.