“I’m all for progress. It’s the damn change that I’m against.” Mark Twain, author, and humorist.
Across Georgia’s 159 counties and more than 500 municipalities, economic and job growth are not a given. Economic development, nationwide, is a multi-billion dollar industry, and the south is winning domestically. Georgia has been named, for nearing a decade now, the best state to do business. That along with many other factors like low taxes, limited regulation, our warm climate, and generally welcoming people all place the Peach State on many a corporate relocation or project shortlist.
And Georgia landed its biggest fish in state history on this front in December of 2021, in the form of electric truck/vehicle manufacturer Rivian. Rivian plans to build a $5-billion, 7500-8500 employee plant in Stanton Springs, an industrial park and site owned and operated by a four-county industrial development authority. The four counties having the vision to form the Joint Development Authority (JDA) a quarter-century ago are Newton, Morgan, Walton, and Jasper counties. David Morgan, then the chair of the Newton County Commission, noted metro Atlanta’s long-established growth to the north, then gathering steam around Hartsfield Airport on the Atlanta southside. The east and west counties in the donut outside of 285 stood next to benefit. Morgan and the new JDA would seek out high-paying, high-tech, and low polluting enterprises, initially assembling 1,600 acres and their respective tax credits to enter the jobs hunt.
Success did not come overnight. It would be almost 15 years before landing the first whopper, though the land assemblages and their advertisement for industrial site development were ongoing and constant. First Baxter Pharmaceutical, then Takeda Pharmaceutical followed by a major data center for Facebook, and then another. Shortly after securing the Rivian announcement, on possibly as many as 2000 more acres of Stanton Springs, S.K. Batteries, which manufactures electrical vehicle batteries announced it was coming soon as well.
Greene County, a bit farther east off I-20, was long one of Georgia’s most impoverished counties, along with a declining tax base and struggling to keep public schools funded. Then, in 1979, Georgia Power dammed up the Oconee River, creating the 19,000 acres of Lake Oconee, straddling Greene, Putnam, and parts of Morgan and Baldwin counties. The largest landowner as the lake was formed, the Reynolds family would develop Reynold’s Plantation, now Reynold’s Lake Oconee, along the newly created shorelines. The direct and indirect investment in the region since, as well as the hospitality and tourism spending, have transformed the region.
And roughly as far to Atlanta’s southwest and Lake Oconee is to the northeast, the loss of textile mills and jobs had crippled the economies of cities and counties along Georgia’s western border with Alabama. Then, in 2005, the state of Georgia would woo and win a Kia Automotive plant just outside of LaGrange, Georgia. That Kia plant is now practically its own city, employing thousands with a rippling economic impact that has benefitted much of West Georgia, creating thousands of jobs and billions in new investment.
Meanwhile, back in Stanton Springs, the Rivian parcel straddles land between Social Circle (Walton County) and Rutledge (Morgan County), and area residents believed that long-standing pine forest was going to be there forever. In truth, the assemblage making this Rivian project possible has been going on for some time, with area landowners selling large swaths of timberland, and the industrial site advertised as available for development.
The fine folks of Rutledge have questions and concerns, and their questions deserve answers...but their land rights end at their property lines, they cannot control or dictate what happens on neighboring parcels. The state of Georgia is smartly stepping in to shepherd the project’s development and in doing so, supersedes local planning and zoning authority. Yes, the Rivian plant will bring some traffic, as well as a new interstate interchange, but there are many more pluses than minuses to a win of this magnitude.
Rivian has also responded that they want to be good neighbors and work well with their new home and community, as they did with their first manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois. Progress does have a price tag, and sometimes that means there will be some in a community who may have to make concessions on things they value, in order for the broader good of the region. I would suggest that the fine folks of Rutledge keep asking their questions, but get used to learning whether or not an electric truck is worth its high price tag, as that train has already long left the station.
One Opinion Vlog: “Progress Has a Price Tag”
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