Railroads and rivers contributed to Gainesville’s growth in the early 19th century, and that network of transportation continues today through the roads leading to the city.
The Gainesville area is a hub for jobs, Tim Evans, vice president for economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said.
Hall County has multiple assets, he said — more than 300 manufacturers and industrial businesses, major highways that converge here, the major medical center for a 15- or 16-county area and a growing retail base.
“All roads lead to Gainesville — roads are built on ridgelines and ridgelines converge in Gainesville,” Evans noted. The 13 or 14 counties of North Georgia look to Hall for jobs, doctors and shopping.
“If you want to go to PetSmart, if you want to see an oncologist ... you’re coming to Gainesville,” he noted.
Evans also pointed out Hall County is its own one-county Metropolitan Statistical Area because “our employment actually exceeds our outbound (traffic).”
The roads can bring people here conveniently, and the industrial plants provide jobs for the surrounding area. He said Hall and the surrounding counties have nearly 500,000 people for the potential workforce.
The industries are the result of long-term planning. The county has 23 business parks — and “we’re always kind of keeping an eye on areas where we think that might be a good fit,” Evans said.
One result is 28 percent of the local economy is “goods-producing” business — i.e., manufacturers. That is “three times the state average,” Evans said.
The businesses developed from poultry and now the county is home to 43 companies that have foreign ownership — about half from Germany. Seventeen other foreign companies are represented in plants here — Kubota Manufacturing of America is the largest for employment with more than 1,300 and an expected 580 at a new facility.
Skills developed in the poultry industry translated well to other businesses like automotive suppliers and metal fabrication, Evans said.
He pointed out that Kubota, which is building a 500,000-square-foot facility in Gateway Industrial Centre — and bought 180 acres in that park — has “the highest concentration of welding, cutting and brazing skills in the U.S.”
William Wrigley Jr. announced plans to add 170 jobs at its Flowery Branch facility. The expansion will make the plant the largest fully integrated chewing gum manufacturer in the world.
The expansion was announced in early 2015 and will be added over two years. The expansion is a result of production being moved from the Wrigley plant in Toronto, which is expected to close this month.
The new jobs will support additional production of ORBIT, the company’s largest gum brand in the U.S., and EXCEL, Canada’s leading gum brand, according to company officials.
Another firm, ZF, has four facilities here, he said, and bought a 53-acre site in the Gainesville Business Park for a wind turbine plant. Pattillo Industrial Real Estate, which has worked with the development authority for about 30 years, built the ZF plant.
“If we hadn’t been working on that park, we’d have had no shot at that plant,” Evans said.
ZF was the first German company to build here, he said. The firm built in Gainesville Industrial Park South, where Pattillo built its building. Pattillo developed the park with the city of Gainesville and the development authority.
Pattillo continues to have an agreement with the development authority. It develops speculative buildings at its expense until a park is filled, Evans said.
A spec building “saves a company time,” Evans said, up to six to nine months. The building “doesn’t necessarily save money.”
The Kubota and ZF facilities illustrate the good-bad news of development. The two projects took the largest sites Hall County had available for big projects.
“We’re out of inventory for big sites,” Evans said. If the county needed 50 to 100 acres for an industry, “we don’t have it. Where are we going to accommodate the large business need?”
That is part of the revolving door nature of his work, he pointed out. The county has a “good inventory” of 10- to 20-acre sites, Evans said.
The county needs about 500 jobs a year and about $125 million in investment to meet the expected residential growth. For the past two years, the industrial expansions have far exceeded those numbers.
Evans also said the county development authority has developed strong relationships with private developers of industrial property.
In South Hall County, he said, a private developer — Majestic Realty — “may be taking the lead.” The firm is building a 300,000-square-foot speculative building in Golden Commerce Park.
South Hall has most of the county’s growth, and it is next to Interstate 985 — also one of the county’s assets.
Interstates 85 and 985 are “as different as night and day,” Evans said, and “it’s a real blessing” for Hall County to not be on I-85. “I like our set of cards,” he declared.
Development projects here tend to be those that manufacture something and want to have some sort of regional headquarters or research and development.
“We do really well” with companies that have those needs, Evans said. “That’s really our sweet spot.”
He pointed to Cargill, which established a plant here in the 1960s, producing salad dressing oil. The company expanded to producing mayonnaise here, and five years ago, it moved a division headquarters from Minnesota to Gainesville.
The company has an office building on West Ridge Road with about 40,000 square feet and about 100 people.
He also said IMS Gear, one of the German companies, manages facilities in Virginia Beach and Mexico from its Gainesville facility.
“We see that over and over again,” Evans said.
The economic development group has 90 active projects for 2016, Evans said, including some commercial but mostly industrial firms.