• W&J Shoe Repair on West Main Street has moved just around the corner from their previous location to 41 West Main Street beside Thayer Monument Company. W&J is owned by Jimmy and Sheila Raymond. This move will allow the completion of the final phase of the renovations of the former Statesboro Carpet and Tile location. Two of the buildings will house the Averitt Center dance studio and the third is available for rent.
• Hair Studio 101, located at 13 South Main Street, will celebrate their 20th anniversary in business on October 1st. Hair Studio is owned by Donna Finch Jones, Angela Haselton and Jenny Jarrard.
• Davita Dialysis' new facility, located at 1989 Stambuck Lane just off the Bypass near Public Storage and The Connection Apartments, is nearly complete. Davita is planning to move to the new11,434 square foot facility the end of this month. This project is being built by developer Hill Gray Seven based in Oviedo, Florida
• Farmers Market Vendor of the Week: Frali Gourmet
This week, Walmart Distribution Center #6061 will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Bulloch County.
I remember the buzz in the early 1990s around the development of the new industrial park and all of the speculation about what was going to locate there.
"This project was truly one of the most exciting projects I worked on during my career," said Peggy Chapman, former president of the Development Authority of Bulloch County. "That was a tremendously exciting time in our community. Kenny Stone, Chairman Raybon Anderson, Mayor Hal Averitt and so many more leaders came together with a vision and goal of increasing the industrial base and creating jobs."
Chapman describes one of the most memorable moments in learning that the secret prospect they were working with was Walmart.
"Everyone had gone to great lengths to keep the project a secret," she said. "During one of their site visits, Kenny and I went to the airport to pick up the prospects and the pilot hopped off the plane with his Walmart name badge. The magnitude of this project really set in then."
Statesboro's Distribution Center would become Walmart's second import facility on the East Coast and only the third import facility company wide. They now have five of these centers around the nation. What is unique about this center is that it intakes products that are imported through the port of Savannah from all over the world. In turn, they feed the distribution facilities, which then feed the individual stores.
When the Statesboro center opened, they had around 200 employees. Now it has more than 530 employees. One of the selling points to our community 20 years ago, was the number of diverse jobs the facility would create. We were told that the company would create pathways for employees to not only have a job but develop a lifelong career.
With this in mind, I reached out to three of the 10 original employees still working at the center. I spoke with Ricky Kight, reserve stock manager, Ronald Love, transportation manager and DeAnna James, training manager. Their employee badge numbers are 51, 52 and 53.
Each of them joined the Walmart team as hourly employees, hoping it would turn into a career.
"I realized that if I worked hard and applied myself the opportunities with the company were endless," Kight said. "I can pick any place in the world to move and find an opportunity within the Walmart family. Joining Walmart D.C. was one of the best decisions I have ever made."
Love was attending OTC studying information technology when one of his professors shared with the class about the opportunities with the new industry coming to town.
"When I was hired, I was impressed with the opportunity for growth within the company," he said. "That combined with the job stability has been very important. There always seems to be a demand for Walmart and our products."
"We are like family. There really is a Walmart family atmosphere. My co-workers have become lifelong friends," Deanna James said. "We are all examples of the fact that there is not a limit in growth opportunities. If you put forth the effort, recognize your abilities and capabilities as the three of us have proven, there are opportunities here for everyone."
I asked the three of them what their biggest surprise over the years was as being part of the Walmart Team. All three agreed it was Walmart's commitment to giving back to the communities they serve. In fact, the Statesboro Walmart center has received the prestigious Helen Walton Award for Community Service twice.
With job growth, career opportunities and helping anchor future industrial growth, I asked Benjy Thompson, the current CEO of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, to share how the Distribution Center and other industry directly impact each of us on a daily basis.
"The Walmart Distribution Center was the catalyst for our community's successful run of industrial recruitment in the 1990s," said Thompson. "Walmart's decision to build its distribution center moved the Authority to purchase the land that now includes Briggs & Stratton, Viracon, and a number of additional businesses."
According to Thompson, Gateway Regional Industrial Park, the home of Walmart and much of the county's industrial base, represents nearly $400 million in capital investment and More than 2000 jobs, contributing more than$ 1.5 million annually in property taxes to Bulloch County. These investments directly affect the ability of our county to have one of the lowest property tax rates in the entire state of Georgia.
"Thanks to the foresight and hard work of the Development Authority, the County and the City, the Gateway Industrial Park has provided a large number of jobs and a tremendous return to our citizens," Thompson said. "We hope will continue with the remaining property at Gateway and our newest industrial property at the Interstate 301/Highway 301 Interchange. To a great degree, these successes started 20 years ago with the opening of our Walmart Distribution Center."
With the continued success of the Walmart Distribution Center, hopefully our community can continue to leverage this story for more growth as the Port of Savannah expands and the next 20 years will be as fruitful for Bulloch County as the last 20 have been.