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Pierce industrial development officials see potential for connecting with Georgia ports

The Blackshear Times
December 14, 2011

One of Pierce County’s options for expanding economic development may lie in the vast industrial presence of Georgia’s ports. Loose “coalitions” of counties united by their location along prominent highways leading to the port system could aid each other in promoting their community and recruiting businesses.

That’s the idea recently explored during a tour last week of the Savannah port by a contingent including Pierce County Industrial Development Director Matt Carter, Blackshear Economic Development Director Tommy Lowmon and Pierce County Industrial Development Authority board member Steven Paul.

The trio was part of a visit to the Garden City terminal of the Savannah port system, organized by Andy Brannen, vice president for economic development at Okefenokee Technical College. The tour allowed Pierce representatives to meet face-to-face with other officials and get a better understanding of what they are looking for in locating industry.

“Getting us on the map is one of the biggest things,” Lowmon says. “Our largest connection to global markets is the Savannah and Brunswick ports.”

Carter says the group learned 44 percent of the American population is served by exchanges at the ports. Though Savannah is the fourth largest port in the country, its growth rate is double its closest competitor over the past 10 years, he notes.

Carter points out numerous major companies have a presence within three miles of the ports. “Pierce County is rich with natural resources,” Lowmon says, citing timber, pecans and blueberries as examples. “The rest of the world needs these products.”

Carter explains the coalitions are essentially an agreement between counties with a shared interest on the highway connection to the ports to work together to improve transportation infrastructure in the region to enhance chances of attracting related industry.

Carter and Lowmon say Highway 84 from Savannah and Highway 32 from Brunswick, which both connect to Interstate 75, appear to be prime opportunities for coalitions. Both roadways intersect Pierce County. Carter notes the coalition is not the same thing as a regional industrial development authority. 

Pierce County pulled out of the Okefenokee Area Development Authority in May, 2009 after county leaders felt they were not getting enough bang for their buck with its $50,000 annual membership payment to the industrial recruitment organization.

Both men say they are working together to explore new economic development opportunities for the community. Georgia’s ports, they say, have the potential to be an industrial pipeline to this area.
“As they prepare to grow, we need to be ready to grow with them,” Lowmon says.

Savannah Ports Tour Group

Photo:
Officials who recently toured the Savannah ports included (back, l to r) Georgia Ports Authority Business Development Representative William Crosby, General Manager Stacy Watson, Director of Business Development John Petrino; (middle) Pierce County Industrial Development Director Matt Carter, Okefenokee Technical College Continuing Education Director Jason Rubenbauer, Pierce County Industrial Development Authority board member Steven Paul; (front) Brantley County Development Authority Executive Director Richard Thornton, OTC Vice President for Economic Development Andy Brannen, and Blackshear Economic Development Director Tommy Lowmon.

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