The Development Authority of Bulloch County is receiving some professional guidance from Boyette Strategic Advisors for how it should be funded and fixed with land, buildings and incentives to bring more jobs to Statesboro and Bulloch County.
Boyette, with offices in Little Rock, Atlanta and Orlando, has just seven employees. But they advise state and local economic development agencies throughout the eastern United States, as well as some corporations. President and CEO Del Boyette and Chief Operating Officer Tracy King Sharp spoke to Bulloch County, city of Statesboro, Georgia Southern University and school system leaders, as well as Development Authority members, over breakfast Sept. 17 at the Holiday Inn.
"We've had success together, and we're blessed to be in a community that works together," said Development Authority of Bulloch County CEO Benjy Thompson. "On the other hand, we also know that if we don't try to get better, we're going to do worse. We know that continuous improvement is necessary."
In its "benchmark research," the Boyette firm is comparing Bulloch County's economic development organization to those in seven other Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama counties, from slightly smaller than Bulloch to double its population. Bulloch County has 71,000 residents, according to a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimate.
Four communities were spotlighted in the comparisons: Dublin-Laurens County, Georgia, with 48,000 people; Sumter County, South Carolina, with 108,000; and two Alabama cities: Auburn, with about 58,500 residents, and Opelika, with almost 29,000, both in Lee County, whose total population tops 150,000.
Lee County is home to Auburn University, which has more than 25,000 students, compared to Georgia Southern's 20,000 students. The University of South Carolina's Sumter campus has about 1,500 students, while Dublin is home to a Middle Georgia State College with about 3,500 students.
Recent job creation successes were another basis of selection. For example, Sumter, South Carolina, is home to the new Continental Tire factory that began production in October 2013. It is expected to grow to employ 1,600 people.
Boyette has also compared Bulloch to three communities that are its regional competitors for development projects: Effingham County, Liberty County, and Valdosta-Lowndes County.
As the name implies, the Development Authority of Bulloch County is a county-supported entity. Its seven board members are appointed by the elected Board of Commissioners, but the Development Authority has some separate powers, such as the ability to issue bonds for new plants or expanding industries, subject to the commissioners' approval.
For several years now, the commissioners have supplied the authority $250,000 annually from the county's general fund. The authority receives another $300,000 per year from GAF roofing for its 10-year lease-to-purchase deal on its 300,000 square-foot building. With income from smaller sources such as interest, the authority's total budget this year is $552,500.
The authority has two employees, Thompson and Economic Development Programs Director Rachel Barnwell. According to the Boyette firm, the number of development organization staff members in the other communities is one in Auburn, three in Opelika and Dublin, four in Sumter and Valdosta, five in Effingham and Hinesville.
All but one of the other communities devote more funding to their development organizations. In Opelika, economic development is handled by a city government department with a $498,000 budget. But the city of Auburn also an economic development department with a budget a little over $1 million, according to Boyette's presentation.
The Dublins-Laurens County Development Authority's budget averages $600,000 to $800,000, but Laurens also has $15 million from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocated to economic development, according to Boyette Strategic Advisors. The Sumter Development Board is budgeted $544,500 by its county, but another $1.5 million flows to the Sumter Smarter Growth Initiative, and the community has $7.2 million allocated from sales tax to economic development.
Taxes & incentives
One advantage Bulloch has is low tax rates, with 7 percent sales tax here, compared to 8 percent in Dublin and Sumter and 9 percent in Auburn and Opelika. Bulloch's total property tax millage is also lowest, but only slightly lower than Laurens County's, and differences in the way Alabama assesses property makes the actual tax in Auburn and Opelika roughly similar to Bulloch's.
Sumter County's property tax rate is much higher, but officials made up for it by offering incentives including free land, infrastructure development and a Fee-in-Lieu-of Taxes agreement for 30 years.
"Local participation in incentive packages is an expectation by companies today," proclaimed a slide in Boyette's PowerPoint.
Bulloch has the means in place to offer competitive incentives, but does not make its incentives as competitive "for smaller but still significant expansion," Boyette said.
Buildings and land
"All of the benchmark locations appear to have more available product, meaning buildings and sites," Sharp said. "Auburn-Lee County has less available acreage, but has a significant inventory of buildings."
The Boyette firm counted the Development Authority of Bulloch County as having more than 500 acres available in its industrial parks. Auburn had 449 acres. But some of the other communities have "megasites" measuring well over 1,000 acres. Laurens County's Heart of Georgia Megasite measures 2,100 acres; Sumter's 1-95 Megasite, 1,417 acres. Each of those counties has more than 3,000 total acres available, and Opelika has 2,500 acres.
"We're certainly not saying that Statesboro-Bulloch County needs to go out and buy or develop a megasite, or anything like that. ..." Sharp said. "We do think that you need some more property."
The Continental Tire project alone required 500 acres, she noted.
Bulloch County has two active industrial parks. At Gateway Regional Industrial Park - home of Great Dane, Viracon and the Walmart Distribution Center - the authority has about 40 acres left in the first phase, and about 160 acres in the second.
Besides those 200 acres, another 200-plus acres are in the new industrial park now being supplied with water and sewer at the Interstate 16 interchange. The other 100 acres, Thompson said, is in smaller parcels.
Six buildings were counted in Bulloch's inventory by the Boyette firm, which called their industrial attractiveness "marginal." These include some older, privately owned buildings that the development authority lists.
The Boyette firm's final report, to be delivered to the Development Authority board in a few weeks, will include recommendations on organizational structure, incentives policy, marketing and potentially business recruitment, Sharp said.
"They're going to give us their thoughts on how we could do some things better, but they're not going tell us exactly how to do them," Thompson said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.