As the nation’s economy appeared to finally start digging itself out of a huge rut in 2011, signs of a recovery in the midstate were hard to find.
Unemployment in Georgia climbed to an all-time high. More local banks failed. Robins Air Force Base, the engine of the area’s economy, cut 600 jobs.
Still, there was good news.
Geico was among several Middle Georgia companies announcing plans to expand. The Macon Mall downsized, demolishing most of its east wing, and got a makeover, repositioning itself as a major player in the retail market. And by year’s end, unemployment showed improvement, thanks in part to strong seasonal hiring for the Christmas shopping season.
Georgia’s jobless rate for November -- the most recent monthly data available -- was 9.9 percent, down from 10.4 percent. The drop was the largest one-month decline since 1977.
Here are some of the local business headlines in 2011:
Discount grocery chain Aldi’s announces it plans to open a second store in Middle Georgia. A new store already was in the works in Macon on Log Cabin Drive when Aldi officials announce a new store will be built in Warner Robins on Watson Boulevard.
The Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 150th anniversary.
The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority votes to reclaim the marketing role from the Macon Economic Development Commission, which had handled the role for about two decades. The MEDC, however, is asked to continue on an interim basis.
Plans for a $12 million development at the historic Atlantic Cotton Mills go up in smoke when the mill is gutted by fire. A developer had hoped to turn the 122-year-old mill building into low-income housing.
Geico, which already employs 4,000 at its regional office in Macon, announces plans to hire another 230.
The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority hires Alex Morrison, who had run Macon’s Main Street program, as its new executive director, ending a yearlong search. Morrison replaces Sid Cherry, the authority’s director for 34 years.
Mohawk Industries shuts down its 50-year-old carpet mill in East Dublin. The plant employed as many as 800 just two years ago but employs just 200 when it closes.
After a run of business closings and job losses in recent years, Baldwin County gets some good economic news in May when Triumph Aerostructures-Vought Aircraft Division announces plans to expand its plant in Milledgeville. The company will invest about $17 million and create up to 250 jobs.
The Telegraph ends daily delivery to 24 outlying counties. The rising costs of newsprint, fuel and other transportation costs had made delivery to those counties “unprofitable,” says Publisher George McCanless. The affected areas still can receive home delivery on Sundays and sign up for the E-Telegraph electronic edition online.
Macon’s Atlantic Southern Bank is shut down by federal and state regulators, making it the 63rd bank in Georgia to fail during a three-year period. Officials blamed the significant losses in acquisitions, development and construction loans. The bank is acquired by Certus.
Germany-based MAGE Solar begins production at its North American headquarters in Dublin. The plant is expected to create 350 new jobs when it hits full-scale production of its solar panels.
The squabble over who should recruit new industry gets ugly as the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority officially cuts ties with Macon Economic Development Commission, even removing the MEDC’s seat on the authority board in mid-meeting. The sides eventually reach a compromise giving authority control over projects involving authority property and incentives, while keeping the MEDC in the role of initial point of contact for prospective new industries.
The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority hires Maceo Rogers to fill an expanded role as the authority’s new executive director. Rogers, a former Dekalb County economic developer, is asked to take more control over marketing and economic development under the authority’s restructuring plan. He replaces Kathy Bowden, who resigned during the authority’s dispute with the Macon Economic Development Commission over which agency controls marketing and recruiting duties.
Renaissance on the River, the proposed $50 million mixed-use development off Riverside Drive, inches closer to reality as the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority signs off on an 18-month option agreement for a 12-acre site controlled by the authority. The project, led by former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey, would be anchored by an upscale tower hotel with condominiums and office space.
The Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and the Macon Economic Development Commission kick off the second phase of Macon NOW!, a privately funded economic development effort, with a goal of raising $2.4 million. Officials credit the first phase with generating 4,400 new jobs and saving another 427, while accounting for $255 million in additional consumer spending. The second phase aims to boost the total number of jobs created to 9,000.
Birch Communications announces that its acquisition of a Florida company will bring about 25 jobs to its operations center in Macon.
The Ramada Inn, downtown Macon’s troubled high-rise hotel, gets a new owner -- its second since March 2010 and third since 2007. Alabama-based Black Diamond Hotel Group paid $2.5 million for the hotel, with the agreement that it would make the $1.5 million in repairs needed to reopen the still closed facility.
Plastican, a manufacturer of 5-gallon plastic cans, announces plans to close its plant in Macon, leaving 65 workers without jobs.
Payne City rejects a proposed medical waste facility that would have brought in about 8 to 10 new jobs -- not enough to offset public opposition to the plant.
A Korean company says it wants to build a $20 million green energy facility in Ocmulgee East Industrial Park that would bring 150 new jobs during the next 30 months. NW Technologies, whose Asian operation already supplies wind and solar power in Japan, China and other countries, pitches its plan to the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, asking for an option on a 30-acre site in the park. The authority requests financial documents from the company. As of late December, the authority is still waiting for some of the information.
Part of Macon Mall is demolished in a downsizing effort to attract shoppers and businesses. The remaining section of Macon Mall is refurbished as it tries to reestablish itself as a major midstate shopping hub and better compete against The Shoppes at River Crossing, a newer, open-air retail center in north Bibb County.
First Quality, which is building a new $200 million diaper plant in Bibb County, lays off an unspecified number of employees, though it is thought to be fewer than 50 workers. Economic developers had said the new plant would not only create 150 new jobs but also save the 222 existing ones.
Gray-based Piedmont Bank is shut down by federal and state regulators. The bank is taken over by Macon-based State Bank & Trust.
Robins Air Force Base announces it is cutting 600 jobs due to a reorganization within the military. Many of the positions to be eliminated were frozen and unfilled. The base employs more than 23,000 people.
The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority adopts a bond resolution for a $140 million expansion at Graphic Packaging International that will include a biomass boiler and 40-megawatt turbine generator at its Macon mill. Because the investment in the project exceeds $100 million, the company will get a tax abatement of as much as 60 percent for 10 years, according to the authority’s new guidelines.
WGS Energy Group LLC announces plans to build a renewable energy electric generation plant in Twiggs County, creating about 150 jobs. The company bought 275 acres in the Interstate 16 South Industrial Park to build the plant, which officials called the “first of its kind in the world” to use a proprietary technology that reduces most emissions to “undetectable levels.”
Chip Cherry announces he has taken a job in Huntsville, Ala., ending his 10-year tenure as president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. Cherry is praised for turning around a struggling chamber of commerce while helping lead the recovery following the devastating shutdown of Brown & Williamson, then Bibb County’s leading employer.
The Telegraph, Georgia Public Broadcasting and Mercer University launch a $4.6 million partnership. The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University will bring together the university’s students and faculty with professionals from The Telegraph and GPB. The effort is backed by a $3.74 million grant to Mercer, along with another $854,000 grant to Georgia Public Broadcasting, all from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The on-again, off-again Kuhmo tire plant planned for Sofkee Industrial Park is on again, sort of. A delegation from Kumho tells local officials that the Korean tire maker remains committed to building its thrice-delayed $225 million plant in Macon. The company, however, stops short of setting new start and completion dates, saying economic conditions must improve. The company had last said it hoped to open in 2013.
Foreclosure proceedings are filed against Range Fuels and its failed new ethanol plant in Soperton by the bank that loaned the company $80 million to build the plant. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the remaining $64 million guaranteed by the federal government. The plant was scheduled to open in 2008 but closed after producing just one test batch of fuel.
The Federal Communications Commission clears the way for Cox Communications to remove WPGA from its cable TV channel lineup and return ABC programming to channel 6, ending a nearly two-year battle between Cox and WPGA over the lineup slot. WPGA, a local TV station, dropped ABC network programming on Jan. 1, 2010, because the station no longer wanted to pay a $500,000 fee to broadcast ABC shows.
Sears announces its Macon Mall store is one of 79 Sears and Kmart stores nationwide that will be closed in 2012. The Macon store has operated in the mall since its opening in the 1970s.