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County's industrial and manufacturing boom continues

A hard-fought battle

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POSTED: February 9, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Economists predict a major recession wouldn't affect Southeast Georgia.
That's mainly because the boom in economic development the area has enjoyed is projected to continue far into the future. Liberty County is being seen by manufacturers as prime real estate.
The year 2007 was an especially good one. Ron Tolley, CEO of the Liberty County Development Authority, said the opening of the 1.5 million square foot Target distribution center was a milestone last year.
Another came when the LCA reached an agreement with IDI, a national industrial real estate developer that locates properties for distribution, warehouse and light manufacturing facilities.
"IDI is one of the top five nationwide real estate companies," Tolley said recently. "They've agreed to acquire 300 acres.
"They've also committed to putting up a speculative building with 502,000 square feet," he said. "They've already started construction. The concrete is poured and they're raising walls as we speak."
The development of TradePort East continues, and preliminary engineering and design work was done on TradePort West in 2007. Buildings there will range in size from 200,000 to 1.8 million square feet, providing space for a variety of different types of businesses.
Yet another milestone was the completion and opening of the Midcoast Regional Airport. That will give manufacturing prospects and potential retailers a better first impression of Liberty County.
"Our old air strip didn't create a very nice impression," Tolley said. "With the new airport, we've jumped light years ahead.
"It has aviation and jet fuel, tower operators at Fort Stewart, crash carts, anything an aviation pilot would want," he said. "And it has a conference room where we can meet with people coming into the county."
People arriving by land also will get a different first impression. A new LCDA office has been opened.
Another highlight was the resolution of the "Midway water war." The city of Midway had planned to annex and provide water and sewer service to a planned $50 million Sawgrass Landing development, a mixed-use residential/commercial development valued in excess of $50 million.
However, the county objected to the annexation. When the "war" reached a stalemate, the development was shut down temporarily.
Fortunately, that issue has been resolved.
"That's a very major accomplishment," Tolley said.
Local business leaders applaud Liberty County's efforts to attract and keep business and industry.
Mike Heagy is the general manager of the Hugo Boss distribution center in the Midway Industrial Park. Hugo Boss manufactures upscale men's and women's clothing and accessories.
After six years in Liberty County, the company is expanding its distribution center in Midway from 165,000 to 330,000 square feet, a move that will not only bolster operations, but eventually add jobs. This is the first step in a five-year plan to increase operations.
 "We've had no problem filling slots," Heagy said. "We've had good applicant flow. We thought Target would affect our flow, but it hasn't."
Hugo Boss chose the Midway site after an extensive search. "It was narrowed down to three to four counties in Georgia and South Carolina," Heagy said. "Liberty County came back with the best offer.
"The decision was made based on several criteria," he said. "We did a logistics analysis based on what they offered us. There is nothing Liberty County hasn't done to accommodate us."
Jenn Glass, a senior specialist in communications for Target, said the company's Midway distribution center also is growing. "We're currently hiring warehouse workers and packers," she said.
"When we were looking for a location, we looked for accessible transportation and labor," Glass said. "Midway was ideal for us.
"The Liberty County Development Authority and the state of Georgia were wonderful to work with," she said. "We're thrilled to be in Midway."
Tak Argentinis owns Elan Technology, which manufactures electric component insulators. Elan is the largest independent company in the United States that produces preforms for hermetic seals and spacers using technical glasses, ceramics and glass ceramic composites.
These products, which basically are insulators for electronic components, are used in hundreds of ways, in automotive, aviation, marine, medical, lighting, resource exploration and recovery, industry and communication, and military applications.
Argentinis is an engineer, and spent the bulk of his career at GE. In 1990, he acquired Elan Technology, and began looking for a new base of operations.
"I looked at 31 different locations from Virginia to Florida," Argentinis said. "I ended up in Liberty County. There were many, many reasons."
At the top of the list was the labor pool. "The 3rd Infantry Division is that division of the Army that is sent overseas," Argentinis said.
"As a result, it's desirable for them to be self-sustaining, self-supporting," he said. "That means engineers, master electricians, master mechanics. These people come from all over the United States."
Thanks to the Army, they end up in Liberty County. "They do two to three tours of duty and leave the Army," Argentinis said. "These are mature family men. This place is so beautiful, they want to stay here."
That makes a perfect match for Elan Technology. "These are highly skilled people," Argentinis said. "Probably 85 to 90 percent of our employees are from the 3rd ID."
Not only are the employees highly skilled, they're loyal to the company. Elan Technology arrived in Liberty County in 1996.
"The overwhelming number of employees who were hired then are still here," Argentinis said.
In addition to the labor pool, Argentinis looked for a way to ship his products. "A lot of our business is overseas," he said. "Here we have in close proximity to four major ports at Charleston, Savannah, Brunswick and Jacksonville. There are two interstates and several major highways."
Quality of life also played into the decision. "There is no city more beautiful than Savannah," Argentinis said.
"I have traveled extensively, and Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Nine months of the year it's spring.
"From a business standpoint, there's a high quality labor force, an excellent transportation system and a beautiful setting with a beautiful city nearby," he said. "And if you need a New York fix, you can get that and it's not terribly difficult or expensive."
Elan's insulators are exported around the world. The company is ISO9002/QS-9000/TS-16949 certified, meaning it meets the highest quality standards in the industry.
When the company relocated to Liberty County, a new 95,000 square foot manufacturing plant was built on a 22-acre site in Midway. That doubled the company's capacity in spray drying.
Elan Technology has been going full-steam-ahead ever since. Argentinis credits Liberty County's industrial development team for leading him to choose the Midway site.
"Some things impressed me," he said. "Economic development is a hard-fought battle.
"In the selection process, these people here were the first to respond," Argentinis said. "They were faster than anyone else.
"When someone has a business to run, they can't sit and twiddle their thumbs," he said. "It's very important that someone with economic development is able to respond to them."
Argentinis was one of the first manufacturers to choose Liberty County, and after his own success, is not surprised to see other companies doing the same. He has watched as International Greetings, Hugo Boss and Target have built distribution centers.
"In the mid 1990s, Liberty County was lucky to get a small, 30-person company every three years," Argentinis said. "The economic development board is extremely supportive. They not only promise to make you welcome, they make you welcome.
"This is one of the most productive economic development outfits I've ever seen," he said. "They are great people to work with.
"Liberty County is one of the world's best-kept secrets," Argentinis said. "I think it's got just what it takes."
 

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