Saturday, August 15, 2009

Georgia still getting industrial prospects

ATLANTA - Companies still are interested in moving jobs to Georgia, even during the ongoing recession, according to figures released last week by state industrial recruiters, but the pace has slowed.

The number of individual "projects" - or businesses announcing plans to locate a factory, warehouse or headquarters - increased by six from the previous year to 327 during the 12 months ending in June. But the projects were smaller, with the companies' total investment decreasing 21 percent and the number of jobs they are bringing falling by 13 percent, according to data kept by the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Although the department is the state government's industrial-recruiting agency, it doesn't keep track of companies lured by individual communities or industries like retailing and hospitality.

The figures also don't include entertainment, which doubled its spending. The state snagged 26 feature films, 36 television shows, nearly 200 commercials and 36 music videos spent $521 million during the last fiscal year, thanks to a package of incentives recently passed by the General Assembly, GDED officials said.

Tourism also improved, but by a more modest 2 percent in dollar terms, the department reported. Fewer visitors made the trip here, but those who came spent slightly more than the previous year.

Ken Stewart, commissioner of economic development, said the state has held its own during the economic downturn and could be poised for a recovery.

"We're seeing a lot of indicators that we're either at the bottom (of the recession) or bouncing along the bottom," he said.

Stewart noted that three of every four projects landed by the department will be located outside of the eight counties making up the core of metro Atlanta. He also stressed that the state had been the first in the Southeast to host the premier convention for the bio-tech industry, BIO 2009, which brought 14,000 top executives to Atlanta.

"It will take some years for the relationships we made there to bear fruit," he said.

George Israel, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said the long lead time for wooing industrial prospects demands continued recruiting during recessions.

The chamber sponsors the Red Carpet Tour which brings prospect companies' executives to The Masters Tournament in Augusta, and one met with Israel last week because the corporation has decided to bring a major facility to Georgia if it can line up financing.

This year 23 executives participated in the tour, the best-qualified in his 16 years of involvement.

"Those are continuing to look at Georgia, and we're excited about that," he said.

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, August 02, 2009

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