SALUTE TO INDUSTRY: CCDA staff recruits, serves as voice for industry partners

Published 9:30 am Saturday, January 27, 2024

While most people see the groundbreaking of a new business as the beginning, the work started well before the ribbon-cutting.

Industries and jobs don’t just appear in a community. It takes the work of all the stakeholders within the company and the community to make it happen. In the middle of this process, acting as a liaison between the two, is the small group at the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA).

The CCDA’s job is to recruit and retain business and industry within the county. When a company already here needs something, they call the CCDA. When the local government is looking at new development projects, they call the CCDA. The purpose of the CCDA and its staff, all of whom are local, is the growth of Chambers County, in every sense of the word.

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The first step is finding industries to bring in, which often happens in one of three ways: self-generated projects, working with existing industries or when a company approaches them.

Self-generated projects mean the CCDA recruits specific industries or sectors they think will be a good fit for the community. According to Chris Busby, the Director of the CCDA, they are currently targeting the food and beverage sector, companies with diverse portfolios (make or do multiple things), and companies involved in the housing industry.

“There are several different ways that we can do that. We can go to trade shows and make contact with them. We work with site selectors, which are national and international individuals who represent companies when companies are looking to expand their operation,” Busby said.

Busby added that the CCDA is trying to diversify the companies that come into Chambers County, especially after the primary industry for the community, the mills, closed in the early 2000s almost devastating the local economy. The CCDA now looks at companies that manufacture different types of goods, or that can use the resources of the county.

Food and beverage is a focus due to the water infrastructure from the mills already in place. However, the county now has many types of industries, from concrete manufacturing to auto parts.

Another way to bring in companies to Chambers County is through companies that are already here.

“Say, Company A has a supplier that manufactures a certain component of their process. We would like them to be closer to us because it will help us with our existing company,” Busby explained. “We go and say, ‘look, one of your biggest customers is right here. We’ve got this property that we think would be a good location,’ and kind of make our sales pitch.”

The CCDA looks for companies that will complement their existing industries. For example, one of the newer companies, Wayne Davis Concrete, supplies the concrete for other industries in the area. They also supply the Chambers County government with their concrete needs.

“We now have a supplier that generates a material that they need … Whenever somebody’s building, the concrete is right here,” Busby said.

The third way new industry can come in is when a company approaches the CCDA. Busby said they love when companies approach them. Often corporations will do national searches for new locations, with certain criteria for where they want to be located. If Chambers County comes up as meeting the requirements, the CCDA submits a Request For Proposal (RFP), which is more or less a pitch.

“An RFP can be as simple as sending me a site flyer or massively complex … That asks every single possible question about a site, a community, your workforce, transportation, network, costume, business incentives, everything,” Busby said.

For Chambers County, there are some major selling points for companies to consider. Busby said a major one is location. With the county being on the interstate, close to the Atlanta airport and relatively close to ports, it makes shipping easier for companies. For food and beverage especially, the water and sewer capacity is a draw. Labor is an increasingly important factor as well.

Busby explains that most companies want their labor pool to be within a 45-minute radius. Southern Union State Community College is a big training ground for industrial workers. Inspire Academy has also become a way to show interested companies that there is a pipeline of workers in the area.

If Chambers checks all the boxes for a company, the CCDA draws up a project agreement.

“Which basically states that if we grant you these incentives, you’re committing to building this facility, investing this much money, employing this many people and paying this specific wage. Project agreement comes, then incentives are granted,” Busby said.

The next and perhaps biggest part of closing the deal are tax incentives. The CCDA meets with the municipalities once a year to set parameters around what tax incentives and how much they are willing to give to companies.

The incentives used are often abatements, which are essentially discounts on the taxes for a certain amount of time. Often, the bigger the investment made or the more jobs a company brings, the bigger incentive they can receive. This means the CCDA works closely with local government as a liaison for companies.

Once incentives are in place, the company is coming to Chambers, CCDA gets all hands on deck.

“When we start working with the company, a lot of things are happening at the same time. So, we’re working with them to get contractors in place,” Busby said. “We’re working with them with site preparation. We’re working with the state to get a workforce training program going so the hiring process can begin. Working with utilities.”

Ansley Emfinger, senior project manager, sums the process up saying, “It’s just one big spider web.”

Emfinger, who focuses on existing industry, is joined by Andie Roberts, a project manager, and Ericka McCullough, the office manager, and Busby to complete the CCDA staff.

“After all the legal stuff is done and we don’t have anything else, we just help make connections in the community and help them figure out if there is any need,” Emfinger said.

She has helped companies with everything from finding printers to getting employee t-shirts made, to recommending schools for their kids. Emfinger said that all of the growth in investment and jobs in the past year has come from these existing industries. Busby adds that the biggest part of the job is nurturing existing companies.

“We continue to make sure they’re happy here, so they’ll keep investing and keep hiring more people in Chambers County instead of going elsewhere,” Emfinger said.

Emfinger and the CCDA staff have implemented HR roundtables, for human resources reps in Chambers to get to know one another and learn about new opportunities. The authority tries to check in with companies on their plans for potential expansion or growth, tell them about new training programs, infrastructure projects or community events they can be a part of.

They have the same role in government, attending council and commission meetings to inform local leaders about these companies; being that liaison between industry and community.

“I always tell people, if I don’t know the answer, I probably know someone that knows the answer, and I’ll try and connect them,” Emfinger said.

The small team has had some big wins over the years.

Busby points to John Soules Food as one of the highlights, due to the company’s involvement with the community and good wages. The automotive industry was also mentioned as one of the saving graces after the mills closed. Busby is most proud of the expansions and reopenings.

“The fact that [Knauf and West Fraser] thought enough about our community and our population to come back here and reinvest after being shuttered was such a big deal,” Busby said.

With the wins, there are some losses. Busby said many of missed opportunities, while difficult, are out of the CCDA’s control.

Companies like Niagara, a food and beverage company, and Lidl, a grocery chain, were both close calls. The CCDA proposal was neck in neck with other counties. Sometimes a single cost of business or site can be the deciding factor.

Some projects that the CCDA was working on were scraped or delayed due to COVID-19. The most notorious being Buc-ee’s. The popular gas station, which ended up in Auburn, was very nearly going to be in Chambers. The CCDA had a contract in place, but COVID happened and the site wasn’t able to be examined. With Auburn sports being on pause, the city was able to offer a large incentive package, securing Buc-ee’s in Auburn.

Busby feels good about the decisions he and his staff have made throughout the years. He said the one area of improvement for the staff is being more vocal about their wins.

“I would like us to do a little bit better job of telling our story,” Busby said. “We’re not out here to get attention. But sometimes I think it’s important because a lot of times people don’t know what we do … I think we need to do a better job of touting our wins, big or small.”

The CCDA staff pride themselves on all being local to Chambers County, often counting it as their biggest strength.

“I think people know how much we care about the community, and it shines through in our work and how we treat our companies and how we’re going to treat them before they’re here and then after they’re here,” Busby said.