Officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, say the pending purchase of the 2,284-acre Bryan County Mega Site by the state of Georgia and a four-county Joint Development Authority should make way for a single large industry to create thousands of jobs and benefit all four counties.
Kemp visited the site southeast of the 16-U.S. Highway 280 interchange Friday afternoon for remarks to area officials under a big tent and a brief media conference. About 30 miles from Statesboro, the Mega Site is a flat, sandy tract currently studded with clumps of palmettos and stands of small pines trees.
One thing officials aren’t saying yet is how much the state will spend for the site. But the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, or JDA, which involves Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham and Effingham counties, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development plan to use proceeds from the recently announced sale of a site in Chatham County to offset the cost.
“Everybody’s putting a significant amount of money into this site, but that will pale in comparison to, like at SK right now they’re spending $2 billion up in Jackson County creating thousands and thousands of jobs,” Kemp said in response to the Statesboro Herald’s question. “That’s what we envision happening here.”
SK Innovation, headquartered in South Korea, is building two electric-vehicle battery factories in Jackson County, north of Atlanta, projected to create 2,600 jobs by 2024. The company’s reported investment in Georgia totals $2.6 billion. State officials aren’t saying that SK will come to the Bryan County site, only that it is large and well positioned enough to attract something similar.
“So the amount of money to get this site ready, while it’s a lot, it pales in comparison to the big picture, of economic impact that it will have on this area, literally for generations,” Kemp said.
He referred questions about the actual state and local government expenditure to the Department of Economic Development and county officials with the JDA. They, in turn, noted that the deal hasn’t been concluded and said this binds them to keep that information confidential.
“We can’t talk about that until the transaction’s finished, but as soon as it’s over, I’m happy to tell you everything that happened,” said Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson, who also participated in the site visit.
A notice from the governor’s office about Friday’s event stated that “the strategic purchase of the Bulloch County Mega Site is the largest in state history” and that the sale is expected to close “on or before July 31, 2021.”
Wilson also cited the SK project for comparison and referred to the potential for thousands of jobs.
“I think that’s the kind of project that you’re looking at that would go on this site, whether that’s an OEM, or whether that’s aerospace, whether that is something in the electrification of the automobile industry,” he said. “I think that there are a lot of opportunities for this site right now.”
OEM means “original equipment manufacturer,” a term used to refer to a company that makes parts or equipment for other manufacturers.
The state is committed to seeing a single large industry build at the Bryan County Mega Site, Wilson said. It would be one that needs rail service and the port of Savannah, he added.
Tracks of the short-line Georgia Central Railway, leading to connections with CSX in Savannah and Norfolk-Southern in Macon, cross the southeastern end of the site. Another side fronts on I-16.
“From a location standpoint, you can’t get any better than where we are right now,” Anna Chafin, CEO of the Development Authority of Bryan County, said in her remarks. “We’re adjacent to I-16, less than 15 miles from I-95, and then less than 30 miles from the Port of Savannah and Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.”
The site is also across I-16 from Bryan County’s Interstate Centre industrial park, which has industrial-grade utility lines that can be extended, she said.
The summary from the governor’s office stated that proceeds from the recent sale of the “Chatham County Economic Development Site” to Amazon will be used for the purchase of the Bryan County Mega Site.
Amazon’s purchase of the Chatham site hasn’t been concluded either, so details of that deal also remain confidential until the closing, Wilson said.
Both the Chatham County site and the Bryan County site were marketed by state and county development officials in the past for automobile factories that ended up going South Carolina.
The Chatham site was purchased about 20 years ago for a Daimler-Benz factory that went that way. But last month officials announced Amazon’s plans to build a 640,000-square foot fulfillment center, expected to create 1,000 full-time jobs, at the Chatham site.
The property now becoming the Bryan County Mega Site was identified in a bid for a Volvo plant six years ago but never actually purchased by the counties or the state. It consists of three parcels, identified as the Mock Tract, the Samwilka Inc. Tract and the Butler Tract LLC in a state summary.
The Volvo factory instead went to a site in the Charleston, S.C., metro area. But the site offered by the four Georgia counties came in second, said Benjy Thompson, CEO of the Development Authority of Bulloch County.
“Since Volvo made their decision in 2015 we’ve had several projects look at this site,” he said. “The difference between today and those projects in the past is now the site will be under public ownership, so it will be easier to get their attention, faster to get them ready to build. So now it’s an even more desirable piece of property, we think.”
The size of the site makes it unlike anything that Bulloch County has in its own inventory of industrial parks properties. Those in-county sites include about160 acres at the Southern Gateway Industrial Park in the Tax Allocation District, or TAD, around the I-16 interchange on U.S. Highway 301, and about 140 acres remaining in the original Gateway Regional Industrial Park, across U.S. 301 from Ogeechee Technical College.
The original Gateway site has rail access, but the I-16 TAD site doesn’t. The TAD site has yet to land an industry, after Bulloch County and the city of Statesboro spent millions of dollars to provide it paved entrance roads and water, sewer and natural gas.
Instead of competing with these sites, the Mega Site could benefit them by landing a manufacturer large enough that it will require spinoff industries to supply it, Thompson and Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch both said this week.
“With what we have we obviously couldn’t site a major industry of that magnitude. It’s really more of a regional concept,” Couch said. “Now, I think the benefit could be if the state, JDA or whoever were able to land that big fish, that would put us and arguably surrounding counties in a very good position to get suppliers, which would ultimately create some jobs and capital investment.”