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Master plan in the works for business sector

Screven County’s Economic Development master plan is almost finalized after Jason M. Hamman and Dean Barber revealed an executive summary of their findings last Thursday.
Hamman, who is the president of the Hamman Consulting Group, and Barber, president of the Barber Business Advisors LLC, still have to make the final edits and give the final report to the Screven County Development Authority who will then release it.
During the executive summary the pair touched on the county’s strengths and weaknesses in attracting potential industries.
The labor market in Screven has low costs, low turnover rates, a heritage in manufacturing and agriculture as well as a lack of unionization in private sector jobs – all of these were reported as strengths. Potential weaknesses were the size of the work force population locally and keeping the skills of the existing workforce on pace with technological advances.
The county’s demographic profile is good from a regional standpoint, but the consultants said the declining population and declining school enrollment could hurt the authority’s chances.
One of the major reasons the SV Pittie Group announced their facility in Screven County is access to the port by Highway 21. The independent consultants listed Highway 21 as a strength and weakness. The problem with Highway 21 doesn’t happen in county. From Rincon to Savannah the major gridlock and number of lights as well as a lower speed limit all are cause for alarm.
Creating a bypass around Rincon could be a major regional project that may fit a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, but those grants are highly competitive.
Utilities were touched on at the reveal, with many strengths and opportunities listed. Municipally-owned utility systems, excess capacity, extensive fiber optic network, choice in electric providers and a shallow aquifer in southern Screven County were plusses.
There were, however, weaknesses in the county’s utility setup. Higher electric rates, higher gas rates, many areas without water/sewer, Sylvania’s “take or pay” contracts with MEAG, and the ability to secure financing for utilities infrastructure were listed as threats or weaknesses by the consultants.
No questions were asked afterwards about the utility weaknesses, but the city’s ongoing problems with residential customers may have contributed to the report’s findings.
The tax climate was discussed, with a focus on the age-based exemptions on real property tax collections in Sylvania listed as a weakness. There was also minimal information on the development authority’s website about taxes, which is something the consultant pair said needed to change.
For Georgia and specifically Screven County the business climate is doing exceptionally well. Recent project wins have put “points on the board” for Screven.
“The lack of industrial projects made Sylvania different,” Barber said, “and not in a good way. Wins beget wins, and so with this latest project coming it might get the ball rolling for them.”
Weaknesses for the business climate included the city/county financial conditions and a non-unified economic development authority. Opportunities in wood pellets and textiles returning were listed, as well as a growing aviation/aerospace cluster in Savannah that could find its way here.
With 174 acres of available space within the Industrial Park and the Business Park, the county has some of the largest set-aside space for businesses. However, the consultants noted the very limited inventory of existing buildings as well as the lack of utilities at the Plantation Airpark and other parts of the county.
The SYS building needs to be renovated or removed, as it is currently drawing negative attention. The SCDA could find grants to repair or upgrade the building they said.
Overall the county needs to focus on agribusiness/food processing, forest/wood products, and textiles/apparel. The consultants recommended the development authority start direct marketing and work on talent retention/attraction.
The full plan will be released at a later time.
Ga. Rep. Jon Burns was in attendance to answer and ask questions about the proposed plan.
“This was good, positive information that pointing out attributes that exist,” he said. “We do need to stress the regional efforts.”
Burns said focusing on Savannah’s port could help every county in the region as well as looking at Gulfstream’s growth.
While the consultants said a lack of dual enrollment programs existed in the county, Burns said there was one in Effingham and Ogeechee Tech and Georgia Southern were working on their programs to educate the future workforce.
The consultants were hired Dec. 1, 2013 and began working on the county’s master economic development plan Jan. 1, 2014. The pair crunched numbers and interviewed many community members in discovering the county’s weaknesses and strengths.