A town that touches four counties, including Hall, Braselton appears to be sitting on an economic development gold mine.
The town with a population of less than 10,000 has emerged as a major distribution hub in the Southeast, thanks in large measure to its advantageous location on Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Greenville, S.C.
Add to the mix Braselton’s proximity to Athens and Gainesville and it’s the kind of location developers drool over, according to Jim Shaw — director of economic development at the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, which also calls Braselton home, along with Barrow and Gwinnett counties.
“Location is important in real estate and it’s just as important in distribution,” Shaw said. “We have easy access to the Port of Savannah. “We’re within a radius of millions of people. Our labor shed is close to 1 million, even though we’re a county of 63,000 or so. And labor can get to this place because of I-85.”
Braselton closed 2016 on a high note by filling more than 2 million square feet of space. The tenants opening distribution centers in recent months include Amazon, which opened a 613,000 square-foot distribution operation in October on Broadway Avenue in Braselton.
Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey said the company hired more than 500 full-time employees at the facility, which specializes in distributing household decor items, sporting equipment and gardening tools.
“The first order shipped was a pack of plastic Halloween pumpkins sent to a customer in Longview, Calif.,” Lindsey said.
Also drawn to the Braselton area was Hubbell, Inc. The company will stock and distribute its electrical and electronic products from a 600,000 square-foot facility in Jackson County at the Jefferson Distribution Industrial Park.
Consumer retail company Williams Sonoma based in San Francisco, also opened a distribution center at the Braselton Commerce Center. The company, which sells kitchenwares and home furnishings struck a deal to operate from a 1.1 million square-foot facility.
Tim Evans, vice president in charge of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said Shaw has made the most of Braselton’s easy access to I-85 in promoting the area as a distribution hub.
“Distribution is not in our sweet spot,” Evans conceded.
However, Evans said Hall has been well served by attracting manufacturing and processing companies, including some that establish headquarters and management components in the area.
“Amazon top pay is $14-$15 an hour,” Evans said. “Manufacturing jobs pay $20 an hour. That’s our sweet spot.”
Shaw said he admires the work Evans and Hall Chamber President Kit Dunlap are doing too.
“We’re proud of manufacturing as well,” Evans said. “Manufacturers have to ship their products, too.”
Braselton-area distribution started taking off in the late 1980s with Southeast Toyota Distributors. Toyota’s operation in Jackson County at its Commerce facility distributes vehicles, parts and accessories throughout the five-state region of Georgia, Florida, Alabama and North and South Carolina. Toyota’s sales in the Southeast region surpass its sales in every other part of the United States, according to the car manufacturer.
Shaw said Toyota announced a $30 million expansion of its Commerce facility that will begin in 2017.
With another 3 million square feet under construction or recently completed, Shaw said he expects more business prospects and opportunities to come a calling.
“As I tell the chamber, it’s another great day to live and work in Jackson County,” Shaw said.