At a time when its unemployment rate has tripled in the last three years, Union County officials are hopeful a state loan will help them bring in the diversity their economy needs.
The $484,010 equity loan comes from OneGeorgia Authority, a state organization created to provide financial assistance to Georgia’s “most economically challenged areas.”
The Union County Development Authority is planning to put the funds toward constructing a pair of speculative buildings at the Blairsville Airport Regional Industrial Park.
According to authority officials, that’s just what the county needs to increase economic development.
“The thing is, to be competitive, you really have to have facilities available,” said Mitchell Griggs, development authority executive director.
“Oftentimes in the past, (prospects) would look for the perfect location and do a build to suit, but now, companies are increasingly losing tolerance for new construction because there are too many potential issues.
“In our case, our existing building inventory was very low, so we were at a disadvantage in that respect.”
Although the county is constructing the buildings on speculation — meaning there’s no signed tenant — officials are hoping the sites will attract manufacturers to the area, bringing economic diversity to the area.
Currently, 62.6 percent of the county’s industry is service-based, which wasn’t a problem until the economic downturn of the last several years slowed the construction industry — and related services like insurance, real estate and transportation.
In 2007, prior to the economic downturn, the county’s unemployment rate was about 3 percent.
Today, that figure is closer to 9 percent.
“The construction industry really powered a lot of (economic) growth around here,” Griggs said.
“When the housing market buckled, I think that had a disproportionate effect on North Georgia because so much of our local economy is engaged in that industry and the industries associated with it. (Economic diversification) is definitely something that we need to do — to bring other employment opportunities to Union County.”
While the new buildings will help make the 135-acre industrial park more attractive to new tenants, there are already seven sites available for development.
Because the future inhabitants of the buildings are unknown, the authority was careful to develop a flexible design.
“We are in a smaller market, so building a 500,000-square-foot distribution center really wasn’t practical for us; we had to rethink the whole speculative building concept,” Griggs said.
“What we came up with was (two) 8,000-square-foot buildings on a 20,000-square-foot footprint.”
The two buildings can grow independently, be joined together or even be combined with a second phase of new buildings, creating a potential for up to 40,000 square feet of industrial space.
“As soon as a building is complete, the expectation is that you will fill it immediately, but in reality it may take three, four or five years to find a tenant,” Griggs said.
“In fleshing this out, we had to figure out ... the most appropriate design for us and our market. Prospects are looking for existing facilities, but this design leaves room for growth when that time comes.”