After years in the making, Peach County is finally on the road toward building a Workforce Development Center.
Peach County commissioners approved three contracts last week for a development center to be built at South Peach Industrial Park. Its movement on a years-old project recent grant awards both encourage and require.
We are very proud of it and so extremely excited, said Michaela Jones, Peach County finance director. Its going to mean a whole lot for Peach County because its going to bring jobs.
The center will focus on teaching job skills relevant to Middle Georgia industries.
Last week, Gov. Nathan Deal proposed a $10 million retraining center to be located in Warner Robins that would focus on helping veterans enter the private work force. It, too, would collaborate with local schools to offer job training, but few other details have emerged as state legislators must first approve the idea.
Officials connected to the Peach County Workforce Development Center said its too soon to speculate on how the two projects might affect each other, if at all.
Their focus is the project in front of them -- an estimated $4.8 million venture to build a 16,000-square-foot center at South Peach Industrial Park off of Ga. 341 and University Boulevard, south of Fort Valley.
Middle Georgia Technical College, which will soon merge with Central Georgia Technical College, will be the main tenant, and the Peach County Development Authority would relocate there.
Students from Crawford, Taylor and Macon (counties), all those students that go to Warner Robins, have to drive through Peach County to get there, said Debra Smith, co-owner of Covington-based Allen-Smith Consulting, Inc. The firm has worked on the project since 2007.
After more than a decade as a concept, the project is now on a deadline.
The county received two state grants -- a $500,000 Employment Incentive Program grant and a $500,000 OneGeorgia grant -- in October that require the grants be fulfilled within two years. The requirement includes a stipulation the county fulfill its service goal of 167 students, according to Smith.
If weve made a lot of progress, well be able to extend it, Smith said. If we get to that date and that moneys still sitting there, then were in trouble. That wont happen though.
Smith said all of the pieces for the project came together last year after so long on the drawing board because a number of factors worked in the countys favor.
A moratorium of sorts on state grants for workforce development centers was lifted, the county reapplied and was granted the funds. Also last year, Peach County voters approved a special purpose local option sales tax continuation that will begin in 2015.
The projects list for the 2015 SPLOST includes $3 million for the training center.
Jones and Smith said the county intends to begin turning dirt by September and complete the center for fall 2014 classes.
Thats our team goal, and thats what were all hoping for, Smith said.
Last week, the county commission approved a finance agreement with CB&T Bank for a $3 million loan in advance of the penny sales tax collections. The county will pay the 1-percent interest until 2015, after which the countys payments will also include the principal, Jones said.
Also at the called meeting, county commissioners approved a $4,870 contract with Wellston Associates Surveyors for a site survey, a $12,000 contract with Hulsey McCormick & Wallace, Inc. for civil engineering, and a contract with JMA Architecture.
JMA Architectures fee is based on the cost of the project. At the current projected cost, the company would earn $288,000. The contract also stipulates the contract is for 10 months after construction begins.
If construction isnt done, theyll start charging us hourly, Jones said. So weve got to get it done.
Marcia Johnson, county administrator, said Middle Georgia Tech will contribute furnishings and equipment, which accounts for the $800,000 shortage between the expected project costs and the countys grant and SPLOST funds.
Jeff Scruggs, acting president of Middle Georgia Tech, said the school will definitely offer commercial driving license training, some form of metal manufacturing classes and diesel mechanic training. Other programs are being evaluated.
The school will also move its adult education classes into the facility.
It ... mean(s) that we will have a modern and appropriately sized and designed center for our adult education classes, Scruggs said. We will be able to do this in an appropriate setting for the needs.
Scruggs and Peach County officials said the workforce development center will be instrumental in helping curb the countys unemployment rate, which Jones pointed out is higher than the state average.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgias unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in November. Peach Countys was 10.3 percent at the same time, according to the most recent county figures available.
Smith said the county Development Authority will move its offices into the center, making it easier for the authority to coordinate training for new and current industrial businesses through the states QuickStart program.
Its going to make a huge difference, Jones said of the development center. There are going to be employers who are looking for those skills, and (the students are) going to have them.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.