Houston can’t afford to lose Development Authority

March 20, 2013 

A few weeks ago, a question came to my mind: Can Houston County residents afford the Houston County Development Authority? My immediate answer was that county residents cannot afford the authority.

Here is why I came to that conclusion. Under SPLOST 2006, county taxpayers bailed out the authority by paying off the outstanding $2.1 million loan balance on their “spec building.” Under SPLOST 2012, county taxpayers again bailed out the authority to the tune of $ 9.8 million for the purchase of land for what was expressed to be used to gain a distribution center. Perhaps, you thought George Bush or Barack Obama was the architect of bailout origins. Not so, as our authority bailouts predated the federal government’s wrongheaded bailouts. Since that purchase, the only distribution centers arriving in Middle Georgia have gone to Bibb County.

Perhaps you can see why I so quickly concluded that county residents cannot afford the authority: $11.9 million spent and not enough to show for it.

Having said all this, is my immediate conclusion still my opinion? No.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Angie Gheesling, the authority’s new executive director. At that meeting, I had the opportunity to discuss several projects I had in mind and gather her thoughts regarding future industrial projects and learn of her previous experiences.

I left that meeting feeling much better about the future of our county’s economic engine. The director has a wealth of experience that can only benefit our county. Further, I believe she recognizes the importance of large-scale industrial projects coming to the county as insurance against any future mission losses at Robins Air Force Base. Also, we need jobs that can support young families and are not dependent upon the air base to keep our young people in the county.

I won’t divulge specifics that were related to me but there is the possibility of new industry arriving in the not too distant future. Having said that, we should stand ready to support the authority as it attempts to expand county employment opportunities. I am confident our County Commission chairman will work hand in hand with the authority to secure new industries.

I guess I should say that the bailouts I mentioned cannot be charged against Gheesling, as she was not present or responsible for decisions made prior to her arrival.

I am confident that this lady will bring only good things to our community and look forward to seeing their accomplishments.

The answer to my original question is that we cannot afford to lose the important work being done by the development authority. We need major industries located here to soften the impact of the loss of any activity at Robins. We need an economic stool with four legs, not just one.

David Wittenberg resides in Kathleen. Contact him at dkw460@yahoo.com.

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