With recent announcements projected to bring at least 4,000 new jobs to area within the next three years, work force readiness is key
By Mary Carr Mayle
In terms of economic development, 2010 is likely to go down as a banner year for Savannah and the surrounding area.
It is, after all, the year Mitsubishi Power Systems America began moving onto the Pooler megasite and JCB restructured its Savannah-based North American business to focus on building skid steer and track loaders.
It's the year the Portuguese company EFACEC opened its power transformer manufacturing plant in Effingham County, while Firth Rixson Limited, a United Kingdom-based provider of highly engineered forged metal products, announced it will build a manufacturing plant in Liberty County.
And it's the year Gulfstream Aerospace announced another major expansion - its second in five years - in Savannah, this one boasting a $500 million price tag and 1,000 new jobs.
So what's in the works for 2011?
"If 2010 was all about successes, 2011 will be about implementation of those successes," said Tommy Hester, chairman of the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
"We've had a lot of big announcements in the last year. Now we have to make sure we deliver on the promises that brought us those projects."
SEDA vice chairman David Paddison agreed.
"Economic development isn't just about announcements," he said. "We now have 4,000 jobs in the funnel over the next three years, and it's imperative that we work with Georgia QuickStart and Savannah Technical College to make sure we have a well-trained, skilled work force available to fill those jobs."
At SEDA, 2011 will also be a time for reflection and planning, said Steve Weathers, who came on board as the authority's president and CEO in November, following longtime leader Rick Winger's retirement.
While he is still in the "listening mode" he assumed when he came in last month, Weathers has some definite ideas about what he hopes to accomplish in the coming year.
Mostly, he expects SEDA and its partners in economic development to start looking for answers to a lot of questions. Among them:
-- What are the major industry sectors that will lead and grow Savannah's economy over the next 10 years?
-- Are we on the right track to attract and retain those industry sectors and help provide the work force they need?
-- Are we doing everything we can to work with and support our regional partners?
"I really see the upcoming year as one in which we lay the foundation for prosperity, developing a strategic, five-year plan that focuses on those industries that are the right fit for our area," he said.
"We've done a good job in the past catching those opportunities that have come our way, but I'd like to see us become more proactive in our recruitment," Weathers said. "We'll still field every call that comes our way, but we also need to ask, 'What businesses are we calling, what industries are we targeting?'
"Once that determination is made, our focus will become clearer."
Beyond the subjective
While Savannah has a lot to offer, Weathers said he doesn't want to fall into the trap so many economic development people do of selling their location based on subjective values.
"Every community believes they have a great quality of life and a committed work force," he said. "But no CEO is going to choose a project location based on anything other than the bottom line. So, what we want to do is show them how they can make a profit here, how we're equipped to educate a work force, how we can help them clear the hurdles and get their company to the finish line first."
Another major theme in 2011 will be expanding and enriching Savannah Gateway, the regional partnership with economic development authorities in Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties, Weathers said.
"We want to embrace our development partners and build a level of trust that allows us all to work for the common good," he said. "We want to know what tools we can offer to support their efforts."
At the end of 2011, Weathers said, he'll also have some questions to ask himself and his staff.
"Have we been proactive in targeted recruiting? Have we been proactive in fostering regional growth? Have we been proactive in retaining and growing our existing industry?
"If those answers are positive, we will have had a really good start."