When companies look to relocate or expand, they look for places with reliable and inexpensive utilities. They need enough land for the building they plan to construct. They might be looking for a place with a high quality of life or easy access to an interstate or railroad.
But the key thing they are looking at, says Georgia Power West Region Community and Economic Development Manager Clint Taylor Jr., is the quality of an area’s workforce.
“The bottom line is that if a company doesn’t have a workforce it doesn’t have anything,” Taylor said.
Taylor was one of several state and local economic development officials who spoke on Tuesday to members of Leadership Murray and Leadership Murray Youth at Oglethorpe Power Corp.’s Thomas A. Smith Energy Facility. The plant is on Dalton Utilities’ land application system property in Murray County.
Carl Campbell, regional project manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, described that agency as “the marketing and sales arm of the state of Georgia.”
He noted that many states provide cash and other direct incentives to companies looking to relocate or expand. Georgia doesn’t do that, but it does provide various tax incentives to companies that create jobs.
Campbell noted that landing major projects can take a very long time as companies weigh their options.
“These projects come in, and they are always in a hurry. Then it takes them forever to decide,” he said.
Several speakers noted that the companies they deal with almost always demand confidentiality in their discussions, and that projects they are working on are talked about using only a code name. The speakers said companies have sometimes walked away from discussions when word of their plans leaked.
Joslyn Hobbs, a junior at Murray County High School, said she was surprised at how much secrecy is involved in these projects.
“I’ve always thought ‘This is our community. We have a right to know,’” she said. “But I can see how they don’t want to get people’s hopes up, not get them expecting new jobs that don’t come through.”
Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman noted that economic development has been one of her top priorities since taking office last year.
“We want you to have good jobs,” she said.
She noted that Murray County and Whitfield County, which had been the only two counties in the state not to have a joint development authority with another county, have since formed one. That helps companies that expand or locate in those two counties qualify for greater incentives from the state. Pittman said that’s just one way the two counties have been working more closely together to foster economic development.
“We know that what happens in Murray County can have an impact on Whitfield County, and what happens in Whitfield County has an effect on Murray County,” she said.
Officials noted that such cooperation is key to landing major projects, with various state agencies working with local governments, utility companies and others to woo companies. They said the job of economic development officials is to do as much of the legwork as they can for companies, so they have all the information they need to make their decisions on where to expand or locate.
Emily Trammell, a senior at Murray County High School, said it was a little surprising to learn that it takes so many people to make economic development deals work.
“But after you think about how large some of these things are and how much planning must go into them, you realize that it takes a lot of time and a lot of people to get them right,” she said.