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Bulloch looking at regional development authority
County hopes to benefit from harbor deepening
Bulloch County seal

Bulloch County is poised to join a regional economic development consortium that hopes to capitalize on the soon-to-be-deepened Savannah harbor.
The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ agenda for its next meeting, set for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, is a motion to approve a resolution to establish a joint development authority with Bryan, Chatham and Effingham counties.
That group, to be called the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, would include an eight-member board, two from each of the counties. The agenda item summary included with the packet for Tuesday’s meeting says the authority would serve “to enhance regional cooperation for attracting potential large-scale development projects.”
Bryan and Effingham counties have agreed to the authority. Chatham County commissioners have one more meeting this year, set for Dec. 19, and the authority was not on the agenda for their last meeting, Dec. 5.
Benjy Thompson, the CEO of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, said in an interview Friday that the regional authority provides for better communication and the ability to coordinate resources for industries that might want to locate along the I-16 corridor.
In June, President Barack Obama signed into law a measure authorizing the deepening of the harbor to go forward. Four months later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Georgia Department of Transportation and Georgia Ports Authority signed a project partnership agreement, allowing the long-awaited expansion to begin.
Ports along the East Coast, including Savannah; Charleston, South Carolina; and Jacksonville, Florida, have been working to upgrade their intake capabilities in anticipation of the expansion of the Panama Canal, expected to be completed within the next couple of years. Once the canal is expanded, bigger ships with more cargo will be able to pass through, and that is expected to provide an economic boom, especially for communities whose ports can most efficiently handle the larger loads.
Thompson noted that Bulloch County has had proven success in attracting large industries — the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, Great Dane and Briggs & Stratton, among others. And the Development Authority of Bulloch County, along with the equivalent authorities in each of the other three counties, will continue to pursue those kinds of projects.
“What we hope is coming up soon due to the port deepening and the improving economy is more interest in coastal Georgia for those types of projects — and those that may be even larger,” he said. “As we see projects that may require a more regional approach to things, which I think is an intelligent way to go, we have among the four counties that are part of the joint development resolution … we have talked about the possibility of working together when these large projects show interest in our part of the state, our part of the world. So this joint development authority will provide a mechanism for us to work together on all types of things moving forward.”
But that regional approach would not entail steering companies to one county or another. Rather, it’s projects of “significant size” that “require support beyond just one single county,” Thompson said.
He pointed to health-care giant Baxter International Inc.’s new $1 billion manufacturing facility near Covington as an example of the project a joint development authority would handle. According to Baxter, the project, expected to be complete in 2016 and fully operational by early 2018, is expected to create 1,500 full-time positions in Georgia and more than 2,000 jobs in total across several U.S. locations.
The Baxter expansion is taking place in Stanton Springs, an industrial park on nearly 1,600 acres near Interstate 20 that was created by a joint development authority involving Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties. All four counties pooled their resources to acquire the property for Stanton Springs in 2000, according to Stanton Springs’ website.
Thompson said that while a project the scope of Baxter is a goal for the I-16 corridor joint authority, the four counties don’t envision a joint purchase on the scale of Stanton Springs. Rather, he emphasized the cooperation of the counties in landing Baxter.
Thompson said there are already a number of joint development authorities in Georgia, and Bulloch County is a member of one formed in 1994 called the Middle Coastal Unified Development Authority, with 12 other counties, including the three with which Bulloch would work on the I-16 corridor authority.
“Most of what that group does is joint marketing,” he said. “We try to get folks in the business or companies who are looking to expand to relocate to have some interest in our physical location and the resources we have to offer. And that group, as the new group, doesn’t affect what happens within a county. … Instead, when there’s an opportunity for us to come together and support a company that needs regional support, this entity will allow us to do that.”
Thompson said the four counties from Savannah to Statesboro share the I-16 corridor and that while Statesboro is an “arbitrary end to that,” it does have Georgia Southern University, “which is a unique asset for the coastal region.”
“We all know each other very well and we all work together very well,” Thompson said of the four counties. “(The joint authority) was just a conversation among the three or four of us that do this kind of work.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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