A statewide tour to promote economic development led Gov. Nathan Deal to the campus of Georgia Southern University on Tuesday, where he signed into law a bill with significant ramifications for the university and the region.
Deal joined Georgia Southern President Brooks Keel, local legislators and a crowd gathered to hear the governor speak at a ceremony in front of the university’s Marvin Pittman Administration Building to sign Senate Bill 396 into law.
The legislation transfers managing authority of Savannah-based Herty Advanced Material Development Center, a company that manufactures forest and paper-related products, building materials and bioproducts, to the university.
The convergence of Georgia Southern and the Herty Center is an idea conceived and executed to create research opportunities for university students and staff while spurring economic and workforce development in the coastal region and throughout the state, the governor said.
“By bringing Herty under the umbrella of one of the state’s great schools, Georgia Southern University, we will be giving students an opportunity to gain insight into the cutting-edge work of scientists and researchers,” Deal said. “Not only will this move set the stage for continued success of the (Herty) Center, but I believe it will serve the purpose of making the work of our universities more relevant to the
workplace and to the careers of the students who are graduating.”
Tuesday’s signing will place the more than 70-year old Herty Center under the authority of GSU effective July 1. The bill passed unanimously in both the Senate and House this year.
Access to the center will create new internships and other hands-on learning and research opportunities for students, Keel said. Having controlling authority of Herty will help Georgia Southern’s effort to become a driving force in the region’s economic development.
“(Having the center) will significantly ramp up the applied research program that we have here. Our students will have the opportunity to take part in that,” Keel said. “We also think that companies doing business with Herty will give our students internship opportunities and allow for hands-on learning experiences.
“This legislation directly and profoundly affects our university,” he continued. “The alignment of Herty and Georgia Southern will not only help advance the research mission of the university but, more importantly, significantly expand our role in developing the economy in south Georgia and beyond. We plan to take the relationship that Herty has already established with a number of companies throughout the nation and world and try to encourage those companies to come to Georgia, set up shop here and hire Georgians. We are excited about what this could bring to the state.”
Deal said access to Georgia Southern personnel and resources can lead to continued growth of Herty Advanced Materials Development and drive job creation throughout Georgia.
“We believe this strategic realignment will expand economic development opportunities for Georgia. It has the real potential to make Savannah — and the larger coastal area — an even more attractive market for manufacturing as well as research and development,” the governor said. “With this move, Herty will benefit from improved visibility, from access to industry partnerships and expanded access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) experts.”
“The move increases the value of the Herty Center and makes Georgia Southern a winner. In the process, it makes the state of Georgia a winner as well,” he continued. “The timber industry is still an important part of the economy of the state of Georgia. Any time you can find new and better uses for the pulp product, it is good news for the state. Also, we will expose students to internships with scientists working on real-life projects. The more we can give students hands-on opportunities, the better off we’ll be.”
Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, one of several legislators on hand for the signing, said the legislation could prove to be a boon for the area.
“This is in line with President Keel’s mission for economic development. Georgia Southern is committed to being an active player in economic development,” Hill said. “It is a great opportunity for Georgia Southern. The move will really pay big dividends for the school and hopefully the region.”
Pairing the university and Herty Center reunites GSU with a bit of its own history.
In his attempt to develop newsprint using Southern pine trees, Dr. Charles Herty, the namesake for the Herty Advanced Materials Development Center, first experimented on pines located on the college’s campus during the 1930s. A plaque was erected in 1935 to note the site, now named Herty Pines.
“This is really a sort of homecoming for the namesake of Dr. Charles Herty, and we’re excited to have the center be a part of Georgia Southern,” Keel said. “There has been a long-standing relationship between Georgia Southern and Herty. We are exceptionally proud to be a part of the Herty legacy.”
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.