Area and state officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal, gathered Monday in drizzle and cold to mark the start of construction on the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network headquarters in North Hall.
“This is just another step in shoring up the importance of poultry to our state,” Deal said at the groundbreaking ceremony, attended by about 100 people, mostly sheltered under a tent from the misty rain.
Work on the $13.7 million, 39,000-square-feet building is expected to be finished in August 2014. It’s on a 10-acre site in the 518-acre Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365, north of White Sulphur Road.
The lab, which has operated for about 50 years in an aging building off Oakwood Road in Oakwood, provides diagnostic and monitoring services to the poultry industry and private poultry owners, as well as performing other tasks.
“The health of poultry flocks across Georgia has a critical importance,” Deal said. “This new laboratory will play a key role in protecting the jobs of tens of thousands of Georgians and in sustaining this state’s annual $28 billion poultry industry.”
The lab will be the first occupant in the industrial park, which is expected to be developed over the next 10-12 years through efforts involving Hall County government and the Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority.
“With this facility, we’ll have the best lab network on the face of this globe,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told the gathering.
The lab will use “21st century, if not 22nd century, technology ... to advance this poultry industry that has been so dear to all of us.”
“Georgia’s poultry products are the state’s leading agricultural export,” Black said. “Poultry is one of the leading export commodities for the Port of Savannah, and those exports support many more jobs throughout the economy.”
Deal, Black and others used shovels to pitch dirt in front of a sign advertising the project.
Mike Giles, president of the Gainesville-based Georgia Poultry Federation, said that federation members “have relied on the work of the (poultry lab) ... to ensure that the state’s chicken and egg producers have had a healthy foundation upon which to build their businesses and farms.”
Also at the ceremony, officials dedicated the road next to the lab as Abit Massey Way, named after the president emeritus of the Poultry Federation.
“How fitting that for decades to come, visitors who come to this world-class facility will be using Abit Massey Way to get here,” said Richard Mecum, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
Amid applause, Massey then was presented a street sign with his name.
“This is overwhelming ... what a special honor I will treasure forever,” said Massey, who led the Georgia Poultry Federation for 48 years before assuming his current role.