Pierce joins SEGRDA

Industrial Development Director Matt Carter points toward the boundary of acreage in the Pierce County Industrial Park that will be deeded to the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Authority in hopes of attracting more industry by combining resources.

County deeds 58 acres in Park to Southeast Georgia Regional Dev. Authority

Pooling resources can bring more bargaining power.

That’s what local industrial development officials are banking on after voting to join the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Authority (SEGRDA) last week.

Pierce County Industrial Development Authority, with the blessing of county and city officials, will deed 58 acres in the U. S. Highway 84 Industrial Park to the joint authority (formerly known as the Tri-County Authority) and work alongside development directors from Appling, Bacon and Jeff Davis counties in hopes of landing larger industrial prospects in one of those four counties.

 “The four counties will have a tie to the 58 acres here,” says Matt Carter,  Pierce County IDA’s Executive Development Director.

The acreage Pierce County will deed to the joint authority is adjacent to Southern Eagle, a beer distributor in the Park. It fronts Hwy. 84 and Bob Bowen Road. Approximately 10 acres of the property is planted timber, but if it’s harvested, Pierce would retain all of the revenue. The IDA will also maintain full control of the remaining 400 acres in the Park.  

An industry recruited by the SEGRDA doesn’t have to locate in Pierce County, however, for this community to benefit economically. If an industry lands in any of the SEGRDA’s marketable parks, all four communities will split 25 percent of the tax revenue generated by the company.

“Not all projects moving forward would land in Pierce County, but you’d have the opportunity to pick up revenue off of projects in those three communities,” Carter explains. “It’s strengthening not only Pierce County, but southeast Georgia.”

Pierce County’s 25 percent of tax revenue on an industry not located in Pierce would flow into the county’s general fund. The county commission would then send the school board its percentage of the revenue, Carter says.

While Blackshear would receive tax revenue on projects that locate in the Pierce County Park —which is annexed into the city limits and utilizes city water and sewer services – the city may not receive a portion of tax revenue from projects that locate in another SEGRDA Park. Carter can’t confirm the revenue breakdown until local attorneys finalize the agreement details, he says.

Carter has been working towards a partnership with SEGRDA for several years, but says local interest in joining the regional authority really picked up within the last year when the joint authority had a prospect that showed interest in the Pierce County Park.

The merits of joining the group weren’t a hard sell to local officials, he says.

“Everybody was on board. The biggest concern was let’s don’t make the same mistakes we made before,” Carter says, referencing a deal several years ago that Pierce made with Ware County to form the Okefenokee Area Development Authority (OADA) prior to his hire. (See related story.) Without a full-time development director on staff at the time, Pierce didn’t see much return on their investment.

With Pierce County’s buy-in to the joint authority, Carter can now market two other industrial parks on U.S. Highway 341 to potential industries.

“That’s kind of hard to turn down in my opinion,” he says.

Both parks, a total of 60 acres, have rail access through Norfolk Southern Railway. The 40-acre park between Baxley and Graham has four-lane access on the front and rail access in the back of the park, and the 20 acre park also has an industrial facility formerly operated as a boat plant.

A combined workforce of 30,000 between the four counties also makes the SEGRDA more competitive with larger counties that surround us  — particularly Ware, Glynn and Lowndes  — Carter says.

Other perks of joining the group include better odds of securing grant funding for infrastructure and Park improvements, additional state tax credits for companies located in the industrial parks, and access to more resources for career workforce development.

Carter’s main priority, however, is utilizing the partnership to extend rail access into the Hwy. 84 Park.

“The main reason for this is being able to attach ourselves to more fund opportunities for putting rail in this park,” he says.

The land Pierce County is deeding to SEGRDA was chosen specifically with that goal in mind.

A rail spur off the side track running parallel to Hwy. 84 extended 75 feet into the Park would reportedly cost $180,000. That cost would be divided between the four SEGRDA counties if an industry intended to locate there and needed rail access.

Once all communities make a joint investment in Pierce County, the local community is locked in  — any money the other communities invested would have to be refunded before Pierce County IDA could back out of an agreement. But, Carter isn’t worried about that much. He says the economic benefit of an industry locating in any of the four communities is worth the risk.

“If there’s a building in there or track on the ground, yeah you’re locked in,” Carter says. “I feel good about it and here’s why  — if the client doesn’t work here, but we’re able to land it in one of the other three communities, that’s revenue coming to Pierce County. It’s definitely worth it.”

“There’s volume in numbers,” Carter adds.

Blackshear Mayor Kevin Grissom agrees.

“There is blessing in numbers,” he says.

IDA members met with city and county officials in closed sessions earlier this month to discuss deeding the 58 acres to the SEGRDA. Local attorneys are now working on the details of the agreement. Carter expects it’ll be finalized by the end of the year.

“We have great attorneys to work out all the details of the contract. I am confident all three of them will see to the best interest of our community,” Grissom says.

The SEGRDA will most likely meet once a month to discuss ongoing projects. Local members include Pierce County Chairman Neal Bennett, Blackshear Mayor Kevin Grissom and IDA Director Matt Carter. County Commission Chairman Neal Bennett could not be reached for comment on this story.

Representatives from Appling, Jeff Davis and Bacon counties include:

• Appling County  — Development Authority board chairman David Douglas, County Commission Chairman, Lewis Parker and Development Director Keri Crosby Orvin.

• Jeff Davis County  — County Commissioner Vann Wooten, Development Authority Board Member Ricky Ursrey and Development Director Andrea Taylor.

• Bacon County — Commission Chairman Andy Hutto, Alma Mayor Peggy Murphy and Development Director Kevin Ellis

This joint development authority has been an ongoing partnership between Appling, Jeff Davis and Bacon counties since the 1990s, but Pierce County’s recent buy-in marks the first time the county has joined the SEGRDA.

“It’ll take tons of communication to make this work, but … it’s an extra tool in the toolbox for all four communities,” Carter says. “It’s a great set up at the end of the day.”