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Designations are good news for area economy
Liberty County is a work-ready, entrepreneur-friendly leading location
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Will Liberty be seeing stars?

The chamber of commerce is applying for a camera- ready designation, which would add Liberty County to a database of locations and resources for production companies seeking on-site locations for upcoming films.

The local economy may be in store for some treats.

Thanks to efforts from the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and the Liberty County Development Authority, a host of state and media designations aimed to encourage economic growth have been bestowed upon the area.

The county, which was recognized last month by Gov. Nathan Deal as a Work Ready community, also has been dubbed by the state as Entrepreneur Friendly, and Hinesville-Fort Stewart was touted as a desirable location for doing business in Area Development magazine’s 100 Leading Locations list.

If successful in luring business, the designations could help reduce the Hinesville metropolitan area’s unemployment rate, which increased to 8.7 percent in May, according to reports from State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

"Work Ready can definitely affect the unemployment rate if people are willing to take the Work Ready assessment," Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leah Poole said.

The Georgia Work Ready program offers a skills assessment and certification tests for job seekers and a job-profiling system for businesses. It aims to identify employers’ needs and the skills available within the state workforce, according to the program website.

Job seekers who complete the assessment have access to an exclusive Work Ready job database, as well as score-based promotional incentives, Poole said.

As of June, Liberty County had exceeded its goal for Work Ready Certificates by 115 percent with 2,901 issued. The program also increased the high school graduation rate from 69.4 to 77.8 percent, she said.

The Entrepreneur Friendly Community program helps to create an entrepreneur environment that factors small business strategies into the community’s overall economic development plans, according to the GDEcD website.

The chamber began pursuing this designation in 2007, the chamber director said. It aims to consolidate county resources for entrepreneurs and guides them through the process of creating a small business.

The chamber also is in the process of applying for the Camera Ready designation, which was launched last year by the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, Poole said.

The designation would add Liberty County to an online database of locations and resources for production companies seeking on-site locations for upcoming films, she said.

"I know the new ‘X-Men’ movie was filmed on Jekyll, and Savannah has had a lot of movies filmed there," Poole said.

Luring film production here would increase economic activity across the board, because the film crews stay in local hotels and rely on area merchants.

Filming also creates some excitement for locals, Hinesville resident David Floyd said. He recalled watching a shoot for the 1995 film "Now and Then" at the county’s former drive-in movie theater, a location that few knew about since most of the filming was in Savannah, he said.

"It was interesting. At the time, it was surprising that they would come here," he said. But the then-abandoned outdoor screen helped film producers convey the passage of time since the characters’ childhood.

"Of course, you were excited and you were hoping you would see somebody famous," Floyd added.

Preselected locations for the database include Seabrook Farms, Dunham Farms Exclusive Country Inn, and Melon Bluff Nature and Heritage Reserve. The locations previously have been featured in commercial print photo shoots that include Southern Living and Coastal Living and used as film locations for The Weather Channel and PBS, Poole said.

Hinesville-Fort Stewart also made the 100 Leading Locations list by Area Development magazine, a trade publication dedicated to corporate site selection, according to Anna Chafin, LCDA director of marketing and research.

Being featured on the list will help Liberty County compete with larger communities like Austin, Texas, Denver, Colo., and Charlotte, N.C., when attracting corporate business, LCDA Chief Executive Officer Ron Tolley said in a news release.

The compilation is based on multiple growth lists and surveys, including the Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities 2010, and a Select Regionals Survey conducted in nearly 300 United States regions.

The survey considered the areas’ top three greatest project investments of 2010, unemployment rates and total capital investment pledged during the past year.

These reports come on the heels of Tradeport East Business Center being designated as a state "Opportunity Zone" and Hinesville-Fort Stewart being ranked No. 5 on Inman News’ top 10 list of metro areas projected to become boom towns in 2020.

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