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Fayette County is at a crossroads

Matt Forshee's picture

During the recession, something huge happened in Fayette County, the impact of which has not truly been felt: The “Developer of Peachtree City,” Pathway Communities, closed up shop.

Whether you agree with the choices that were made or not by them when they were developing, the entity was constantly impacting the community with the addition of residential, commercial and industrial space.

During the development of the city, Pathway and its predecessors developed the largest industrial park on the south side of Atlanta, the 2,200-acre Peachtree City Industrial Village.

Home to large companies like Panasonic Automotive, Eaton’s Cooper Lighting and NCR, as well as smaller companies like NAECO, Paschall and United Radio, the industrial park has offered an opportunity to grow and balance our local economy so that we are not as reliant upon Hartsfield-Jackson and Delta as major primary employers of Fayette County residents.

They also added significant investment to our community through new buildings and equipment, items for which these companies pay property taxes.

Today, the industrial areas in Fayette County that can support large employers are nearly built-out and occupied. There is very little unoccupied land that is zoned for industry, which has all necessary infrastructure in place which we can present to interested companies considering locating new projects here.

Without sites to show, we as a community get bypassed. An industry looking today for 50 acres or more of zoned industrial land in Fayette County can’t find it, as it doesn’t exist anymore.

The same goes for existing industrial buildings, often used as the “bait” to get companies to come look at our community. Just in the last few months, our largest existing industrial spaces have been mostly leased.

If a company is looking for 50,000 to 100,000 or more square feet of existing industrial building space to lease or purchase, we have only three buildings to present currently, all of which have significant occupancy challenges that companies so far have shied away from.

Our best industrial “bait” building, the 100,000-sq.-ft. building at 725 Hwy. 74 South (the Peachtree City spec building) was leased last month and should be occupied by spring. Without quality available buildings to show, we are bypassed.

Perhaps you think manufacturing growth isn’t the solution and that instead we should focus on growing corporate office and “knowledge based industry.”

In that case, we are even worse off in having existing available and zoned land and buildings.

The corporate office tenants are looking for existing built space more often than greenfield sites. Most of our larger existing office space is occupied, leaving smaller suites that often do not work for larger clients.

If a company is looking for 40,000 sq. ft. to 60,000 sq. ft. of existing, contiguous corporate office space in Fayette County, it is almost impossible to find. Additionally, many of our existing office-tech facilities have had challenges recruiting talent to our community, as it is not perceived to be a place where younger talent wants to locate to.

Maybe you feel our economy doesn’t need to grow based on large industry or corporate office, but on entrepreneurs and small business.

In that case, do you believe that we have all the pieces necessary to support the growth and maturation of small enterprises in a way that will significantly impact the economy of our county?

Are you a small-business owner or entrepreneur and are you satisfied with the opportunities here? Do you believe everything you need to grow is here now? If not, what else do we, as a community, need?

I present these points not to complain, but to note that we are at a crossroads as a community and to pose questions:

Are we as a community satisfied with where we are economically? Do you feel that you, your family, your business has everything here it needs to grow and succeed?

There is an effort going on now that needs your input. The Fayette Visioning effort is attempting to document where we are now as a community, where we want to go and how we plan to get there.

This isn’t a Comprehensive Plan as required by state government. This is a Visioning Plan — real challenges and opportunities looking for real solutions.

Some challenges and solutions may mean baby steps. Some may mean changes in world-view. But none of it will work without your input.

I ask you to get involved. Visit www.fayettevision.org and read up on where the effort is to date. There’s an online discussion going on now looking for both questions and ideas at http://fayettevision.mindmixer.com/.

But the vision will not be clear if you don’t help to provide the focus.

[Matt Forshee is president and CEO of the Fayette County Development Authority and member of the Fayette Visioning Initiative Steering Committee.]

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