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Development Authority battling economy to lure new companies
W VIRACON Biz
A forklift driver moves crates of glass around in the Viracon plant inside Statesboro's Gateway Industrial Park off 301 South in this file photo from 2007. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File
      The Statesboro Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 87th year of operation this past Thursday. Since 1990, Peggy Chapman has served as that organization's president, but what many may not realize is that Chapman also wears another very important "hat."
       Chapman is the executive director of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, an organization designed to drive industrial development, job creation, and to aid in the commercial growth of Bulloch County.
       As the nation's economy continues to decline, Chapman is charged with the increasingly difficult task of trying to bring new industry to Bulloch County.
       "The days of rapid industrial expansion are behind us for awhile," Chapman said. "We had a number of very interested prospects just a few months ago. But, with the negative downturn in the economy, they have decided not to expand at this time."
       Two years ago, the Development Authority purchased an additional 300 acres adjacent to the original 615 acre Gateway Industrial Park which is full. Chapman said the additional acreage - or Gateway II as it is called by some - is a perfect industrial site and felt to be one of the best in the state.
       "When our Leadership Bulloch class went to Atlanta last year, they were given a presentation by a group of economic developers gathered from around the state," she said. "They told the leadership group that our   Gateway II site was one of the top five industrial sites in the state of Georgia. I did not realize that it was that highly thought of, but that is very encouraging, and hopefully it will be exactly as it needs to be when the economy turns around."
       Chapman said in times like these you simply have to batten down the hatches and get ready for the economy to get better and for interest to intensify once again.
       "The down time is the time to prepare," she said. "We might not see big industrial expansion by large companies for some time. We can make sure that our site is cleared, and take the time to do an engineering study on it which is very good in the sense that it will help us make the best decisions about preparing it for development."
    The day-to-day operations of the Development Authority are funded by the County. "We give around $200,000 each year to them to cover overhead and operational costs," said Bulloch County manager Tom Couch. "They receive some income for warehouse rental at in the industrial park, and I think that income is earmarked for capital expenditures to aid development - things like infrastructure and so forth."
Couch said most counties in Georgia have a development authority and these organizations serve a very important purpose.
       "You really need to try and bring could solid jobs to your county, so that your citizens can continue to improve their quality of life and have good employment opportunities that will allow them to remain here. It serves a very vital function."
       While large industry expansion has cooled, there is an expected expansion into Gateway II this year. The Development Authority is in the process of deeding 10 acres which front Highway 301 South (near the Georgia State Patrol Station) to East Georgia College for the construction of a Statesboro campus.
Chapman said the Development Authority was approached and asked to aid in finding some land for the college's proposed expansion. It was decided that deeding some acreage to East Georgia made sense as it had deeded land to Ogeechee Technical College when they decided to build their new Statesboro campus.
       "The Development Authority has a history of working with educational institutions to aid in their growth, so this fell into that same mold," she said. "East Georgia has to begin construction on their new campus within a year or the land reverts back to the Development Authority."
       Chapman said that there are approximately 2,500 jobs being filled in Gateway I right now, and it appears as if those numbers are holding steady for the time being.
       "Sure we have had some job loss, but for the most part everything seems pretty stable," she said.
Bob Randall, vice president of operations for Viracon in Statesboro, said he knows that there have been rumors that the Statesboro Viracon plant is closing, but nothing could be further from the truth.
       "I know in difficult times that rumors get started and gain a life of their own," Randall said. "We are doing well and our Statesboro plant is a very important part of our company. We have no intention of closing this plant. In fact, in the next couple of months we will be celebrating our tenth anniversary of being open here in Statesboro. We are planning a big celebration."