By Nick Nunn staff writer

Bob Hughes, president of the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Director, gave an economic development update during a work session of the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) last Tuesday, April 15. While Hughes was generally optimistic about the growth of economic development in the area, which is being spurred on by industries such as Baxter, Mannington, and Flambeau, he also noted several limiting factors on growth in the area, such as the lack of available industrial land residential buildings and the existing rail sites. Hughes said that the number of available jobs in Morgan County is beginning to increase. He said that 50 new jobs will be created in the coming year because of tourism projects, including the Georgia Zoo & Safari Park and the farmers market that will be developed at 2620 Eatonton Highway. He said that Morgan County’s tourism projects will help the county to “become a destination” and will begin drawing from 300,000 to 500,000 people in the next few years.

Hughes also said that Baxter is preparing to “turn up the temperature” and will be employing more than 2000 people by the end of the summer 2014. He also mentioned the groundbreaking of the Georgia BioScience Training Center at Stanton Springs, which will enable possible Baxter employees to receive the training that they will need for Baxter jobs at a nearby location. Hughes stressed the importance of creating a high quality of life in the county as a way of attracting industry to the area. He said that industries typically look at several factors when considering a location, including the existence of a skilled workforce as well as good education, healthcare, and transportation systems. He noted that it is particularly important for the county to continue supporting the Morgan Memorial Hospital for creating “vitality” in the county. Hughes then listed several long term issues that the county will have to face, including the lack of unoccupied industrial buildings that potential residents could move into.

“We don’t really have any buildings we can look at,” said Hughes about the issue. “ We don’t have product to sell.” He said that industries are “reluctant” to develop raw land, preferring to move into locations with existing infrastructure. Hughes also stated that an increased presence of technical schools in the area would also encourage growth, as the existence of technical schools supply the local workforce with a nearby training center for industry jobs. BOC Chair Andrew Ainslie noted that the growth of Baxter will be sufficient to compensate the county for its investment in the Stanton Springs project within two years of the Baxter project’s completion. Hughes added that the growth of the Stanton Springs development may also cause the need for the construction of an additional exit on Interstate 20 to deal with traffic. He suggested that such an exit, if built inside Morgan County lines could be very profitable for the county.

Ainslie asked Hughes how county residents will be able to apply for industry jobs in the area, and Hughes replied that the process is usually online and is guided by the Department of Labor. Hughes added that Mannington is currently “desperately” looking to hire people with the skill sets required for manufacturing jobs. He also noted that the first class of the Morgan Works program, which offers free training in soft skills, OSHA safety certification, and Work Ready certification, recently graduated, and that they hope to be able to continue the program. Ainslie also said that the county needs to continuing fostering existing businesses and industries in Morgan County, stating that approximately 70 percent of job creation comes from business expansions.