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Citizens, do you want more economic development?
Question for you, but before you answer understand there is a stipulation to your response.
Do you want more economic development?
A reply of “no” means you can have more chances to take a nap now, but a higher likelihood that your community will take the proverbial “dirt nap” in the near future.
A “yes,” however, means you must keep your peepers open, keep your legs in motion, and keep your mind on the intense importance of a stable in-county economy.
This is a wonderful community and you obviously agree since I have not laid eyes on a convoy of U-Hauls exiting Screven County with all your worldly goods.
For that peacefulness to continue, we have economic work to do. Without it, our niche of Southeast Georgia will shrivel up and die.
It seems some of you have gotten that message loud and clear.
Although only one person will run as opposition to incumbents in all three of the county commission races combined in July, the existing commission board has some tough choices to make for some seats in a very crowded field.
Seventeen residents have announced they would like the commission to consider them for three spots on the Industrial Development Authority board and two of the sitting three IDA members say they want to remain on the board, whose primary objective is to charm businesses our way.
That means 19 people are vying for a trio of positions.
I could make the bold statement of “Hey kiddo, now that is a lot,” but instead I will allow history to speak for itself. Never have so many individuals sought to be on the IDA board.
From an outsider’s viewpoint, it seems Screven County does have that economic development spark, but it is going to take more than a flicker before our community can upgrade to a precision-tuned Ferrari.
While getting onto the IDA board does show initiative -- and we all know displaying initiative boosts your chances in a job interview – you have to do something on the board or a lot of people, yourself included, will have wasted time.
Getting the position and then slapping a self-imposed witness protection program on yourself does not benefit our community. As residents of this county, we all have seen citizens who spout off campaign rhetoric of how they plan to make where we live better. However, once that person enters office, the lofty goals fly out the window and the individual transforms into a mere wallflower. The individual never voices an opinion on any issue, but certainly is fleet of foot when the sandwich tray is made available right before executive session.
Maybe their campaign slogans should have been “Vote for me. I need a roast beef sammie in my belly once a month.”
County commissioners, you have a pool of individuals who have qualified for IDA seats plus two business owners who wish to stay on the board. Make your choices wisely. Our community deserves the best three people in those spots. They should be the ones who want to do what is necessary to entice economic development and not just score a pig-in-the-blanket at a morning meeting.
And commissioners, remember that no matter whom you select for the three seats four veterans, who already know the process, remain in place on the seven-member board.
Choose new IDA members and let’s all hope those selections do not become the non-verbal types. We must have new ideas to lure business and lots of them.
And to those 16 not chosen for the three spots, do not allow the commissioners’ selection of others to quell your enthusiasm toward generating business growth. Your ideas, my ideas, all of our ideas will be needed if we are to create a viable local job market for our children and our children’s children.
Why is economic development so precious for us right now? Let’s canvass our neighboring counties.
In the “Haves” category, Bulloch, Burke and Effingham make the list. In the “Have Nots” category, however, Allendale (S.C.) and Jenkins exist.
We have the opportunity to piggyback on the increased wealth of our neighbors while creating a positive atmosphere within our county’s four corners for potential business.
Bulloch County has Georgia Southern University. Burke County has Plant Vogtle. Effingham County has the extended expansion of Savannah. We, to sustain our economic life, must do more than simply hope a wave of growth just so happens to flow to Screven from one of these directions.
We, as a county, cannot sit back on our haunches. We must actively pursue businesses and woo residents to our community. We have much to offer and we must continually showcase that.
Yes, it was bleak when Sylvania Yarn Systems closed at the end of 2009, but now we must readily shop the facility around for a new company or companies. Additionally, Screven’s industries Koyo Torrington Bearings and King America Finishing have been expanding their workforces.
“People are the most important resource we have,” said David Burke, whose Koyo plant recently announced it will add a new line of pins and shafts production and approximately 60 jobs.
“We feel we have a good building,” said Don Aaron, who owns the SYS facility. “Logistically, we are in great shape.”
The plant is within a 50-mile radius of the Port Authority, a 40-mile radius of three interstates and 55 miles of an international airport.
“We feel we have a lot to offer if people will stop and look at our plant,” Aaron told a group of economic developers during a tour in Screven County.
As the SYS plant manager, Aaron saw first-hand that the local workforce is one of quality. Aaron said a high percentage of the SYS employees had perfect attendance and a “tremendous work ethic.”
There is a need to retain good workers and bring them back.
Kevin Hagan left Screven County in 1995, but felt a yearning to return.
“I’ve done something that is not real common in a rural area. I came back,” Hagan said to a room full of development officials inside a renovated Soda Shop Gallery in late April.
A talent pool of skilled laborers already exists.
Screven County High School educator Brandon Jones said his drafting students are using programs that are on the level of those in industry. SCHS is just one of a dozen schools in the state with such a program.
“What we are using in the classroom is what is the most up-to-date software in the market,” said Preston Dees of computer-generated 3-D drafting visuals. For years, Dees oversaw the career vocational wing of the high school.
Jones said he worked in drafting industry during his college days and knows what employers want. “They are looking for skills.”
The “Come Explore Screven” tour two months ago rightfully deserves a hearty pat on the back, but not a ticker tape parade. More must be done.
“I am looking forward to working with the community,” said Jason Frieze, director of economic retail development for Electric Cities of Georgia. “It makes a huge impression when you bring developers to town. It is great to show you are welcoming people to town.”
Now for the next phase in our economic progression.
Again I ask, do you want more economic development? If the answer is “yes,” let’s all do what it takes to make it happen.
Enoch Autry is the publisher-editor of the Sylvania Telephone.