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Project Greyhound promises 40 jobs
Gets no tax break, but drives road and rail extension
W Project Greyhound Presentation 2
Development Authority of Bulloch County legal counsel Stephen Rushing, left, and the authoritys CEO Benjy Thompson, at lectern, describe the agreement for Project Greyhound to the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

The Development Authority of Bulloch County plans to use preparations for a new industry bringing 40 jobs and a $12 million capital investment to the Gateway Industrial Park as tools to maintain rail service and extend a road that could serve other industries as well.

Details of the codenamed "Project Greyhound" emerged during a specially called Bulloch County Board of Commissioners meeting at noon Friday. The commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding spelling out incentives for the company.

To be clear, "Greyhound," is not company's actual name, and the project has nothing to do with buses. State and local officials used this code name, and the newspaper is withholding the real name pending a state announcement or confirmation by the company.

When Dr. Benjy Thompson, CEO of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, first heard about the project in December, Bulloch County was not on the list of locations the company was considering.

"But because of a good bit of outreach and relationship building we've done through the Development Authority, the state project managers actually asked them to include us on the list," Thompson told the commissioners. "They added us because they talked us into it, which is a good thing."

Bulloch County competed with another site, in another state, he said.

No tax abatement

Unlike enticements for some larger projects, the incentive package for this relatively small employer does not include a break from property taxes. So the new plant will bring tax revenue to the county in the near future, said County Manager Tom Couch.

"There being no tax abatement, based on the $12 million capital investment, the annual real and personal ad valorem tax value, beginning in year three, when the project is anticipated to be fully online, would be $59,232 per year," he said.

The 40 full-time jobs are expected to pay wages averaging $15.80 an hour, Couch noted.

Incentives to the company include a grant of land from the county-backed Development Authority, a waiver of county permit fees, state tax credits of $4,000 per job created, and the rail spur and road extension, which would be funded either partly by the county or wholly by federal and state grants.

The per-job incentive costs will be about $29,000 to the county and $29,000 to the state, Couch said. He later explained that this estimate includes the full amount of the two $500,000 grants, whose reality remains to be seen, and one year of the job tax credit, which would extend longer. The Development Authority valued the land at $30,000 an acre, or roughly $930,000 total.

Road and rail

Thompson and the development authority's legal counsel, Stephen Rushing, explained details to the commissioners.

The 31-acre site is in the industrial park's second phase, Gateway II, where the Great Dane Trailers plant stands and the 100-job Aspen Aerogels plant is planned. Announced in November, Aspen is now slated to be in production sometime in 2018, after a revision from the original projection of last-quarter 2017.

The new project will get a separate rail spur from the one that will serve Aspen.

For a basic spur, projected to cost about $210,000, the "Greyhound" company is committed to pay the first $100,000, and the community, meaning the county and Development Authority, the next $110,000. If the cost exceeds $210,000, the company would pay the rest.

However, the county is applying for a federal Employment Incentive Program, or EIP, grant of up to $500,000 through the Georgia Department Community Affairs. If the grant is awarded, the county would use it to build the railroad spur specifically for this project, although it might incidentally benefit the remainder of the industrial park, Thompson said.

Gateway Industrial Park is off U.S. Highway 301 south of Statesboro, and the undeveloped area is to the north from Great Dane. So Gateway Boulevard would be extended across a currently wooded area to reach it. For paving a basic, two-lane road extension, the company is agreeing to reimburse the county up to $100,000, with the county to pay any cost above $100,000.

Meanwhile, the county is also applying for a One Georgia Equity Grant of up to $500,000 to extend the road, Thompson said. Unlike the EIP grant, the One Georgia funds can be used for a general improvement to the industrial park. If this grant is approved, the county could build a heavier, four-lane road, like the one by Great Dane, with the goal of connecting with J.C. Cannady Road to the north, Thompson said.

"We felt like this project gave us not just a nice project itself, with capital investment and job creation, but the ability to leverage the project to increase the infrastructure situation at Gateway Phase II," Thompson said.

This industry's use of rail will benefit the county by increasing business to the short-line railroad that serves the industrial park, Georgia Southern Railway, Rushing told the commissioners.

"We have received, outside of this project altogether, some concern from local companies who use this rail company about it being perpetual here in our community. ...," he said. "This will add a lot of sustenance to our rail company, because they are a pretty high rail user, we're told."

The agreement includes clawback provisions for the county and state to get back up to 100 percent of the cost of incentives if the company does not achieve at least 80 percent of its commitment to create 40 jobs and a $12 million capital investment, Rushing said.

Beyond those numbers

"We believe and hope that they will go well beyond those numbers," Thompson said. "Their numbers look more like about 50 or 60 jobs and about $20 million in capital investment."

A different Thompson, Commissioner Roy Thompson, made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Walter Gibson, to approve the agreement.

"What's great about it is, here is a company knocking on our door, they found out about us. ...," Commissioner Thompson said. "And again, I'm looking at a simple land grant, and the good thing about it is, this company has come to us, and they've agreed to pay taxes immediately, upon operation."

Benjy Thompson said he expects a state announcement next week.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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