A process that started in January began to pay dividends this week when local government officials signed off on a series of agreements with Caesarstone Technologies USA Inc. to build a manufacturing plant at Richmond Hill’s Belfast Commerce Centre.
Though the Israeli company has yet to comment and neither Georgia nor local incentives have been revealed, officials say the $70 million-$100 million investment in Bryan County is expected to bring some 180 jobs to the county.
They also say the new facility — which will make high-end countertops — could be up and running within 18 months at the industrial park that officially became part of Richmond Hill on Friday.
The manufacturer’s impact could be enormous on a number of levels, from speeding up the building of the interchange at I-95 and Belfast Siding, now slated to begin in July 2017, to bringing in more industry and helping to lower property taxes, various officials said.
Their elation was obvious as first the Bryan County Board of Commissioners and then the Richmond Hill City Council voted on more than 100 pages worth of agreements to bring Caesarstone to South Bryan, calling the votes “historic.”
“This is by far the most important vote I will have cast,” said Richmond Hill Councilman Russ Carpenter, shortly before he voted at the city’s called meeting Wednesday night. “This means jobs for Richmond Hill. Caesarstone Technologies’ commitment to our city and the economic impact this plant will bring is tremendous.”
Development Authority of Bryan County Chairman Steve Croy — who was praised for his work in helping bring the plant here — said the manufacturer’s decision to come to Bryan County will in effect lead other international manufacturers to look here as well.
“The repercussions fixing to happen and the exposure we’re about to receive is going to be unreal,” Croy told county commissioners at their called meeting Tuesday to vote on the agreement. “The fact they chose us over so many other communities has put us on the map.”
Croy said Bryan County was chosen over some 70 sites.
“What we’re doing here (Tuesday) is really going to catapult us into discussions going forward, where we may not have been there before,” he said.
Wednesday night at Richmond Hill City Hall, Croy said he was already feeling the “repercussions” of news the plant was coming to Bryan County.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said. “I can tell you that as of 8 a.m. this morning … there’s already another industry interested in looking out there (at Belfast Commerce Centre).”
Croy said teamwork between Bryan County, Richmond Hill and the Development Authority was instrumental in bringing Caesarstone to the county. He said the agreement wouldn’t have happened without the willingness of Jimmy Burnsed, chairman of the Bryan County commission, and Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler to work together.
“I want to commend you for the leadership you’ve shown to this county and the service you’ve given,” Croy said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Public service is often a thankless job, as y’all well know — but this one is going to do down as a great thing.”
Fowler said the process began in earnest about four years ago when he and Burnsed met with TerraPointe to discuss land for an industrial park in South Bryan. It eventually became the 1,900-acre Belfast Commerce Centre where Caesarstone will set up shop.
“Two years ago that was a great timber tract with a railroad running through it close to the interstate,” Fowler said. “But the TerraPoint guys stepped up along with CSX and created the possibility of there being an industrial park. And now it is a park.”
A trip abroad
Ironically, Burnsed went to Israel with his church group a week before he knew Caesarstone was looking at Belfast Commerce Centre, so he extended his stay for a day to visit the plant “on my own dollar, I want to make it clear this didn’t cost taxpayers,” he said Tuesday.
Burnsed came away impressed.
“It was very high tech — very impressive, their manufacturing process,” he said. “It’s amazing what they can do. It is a very clean plant, and I think this is the first plant outside Israel for them. This is a big, big opportunity for us and a win-win situation for everybody.”
Burnsed noted the company is publicly traded and its stock has gone up over the past year from around $14 a share to more than $40.
“It’s a very strong, for-real company,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having them here as a corporate citizen.”
Croy said Caesarstone also did its homework and was willing to work with local officials.
“They were very patient, very diligent and very good at what they did,” he said Wednesday night. “And they saw something in our community they liked.”