For the past several years, Dublin and Laurens County have landed a slew of manufacturers, including a Latvian-based company that last week announced plans to invest $20 million in a fiberglass plant that’s expected to create 150 jobs.
That company, Valmiera Glass, is just the latest big business to pick Dublin-Laurens County in recent years. Consider this: Dinex, a Danish manufacturer of automotive exhaust and emission systems, as well as German automotive parts maker Erdrich Umformtechnik GmbH& Co. and paper recycler SP Fiber Technologies have all located there since 2012. Meanwhile, Farmers Home Furniture decided last year to remain in the county and expand its operation.
With that kind of success, some may be wondering: What is Dublin and Laurens County’s secret?
“I think we do a lot of things right,” said Scott Beasley, chairman of the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority. “First off, we have location. ... We have property available at several different strategic locations that are close to transportation north, south, east and west.”
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Several major routes run through the county, including Interstate 16, U.S. 80, U.S. 319 and U.S. 441. Rail access is available, and the Port of Savannah is a short jaunt -- just 120 miles -- from Dublin.
“If you have an industry on I-16, you can make three turns and be in the driveway of the port,” Beasley said. “The dredging of the harbor in Savannah is really going to be quite interesting to see what happens with the development along the I-16 corridor, not only in our area but (also) between here and Savannah and between here and Macon.
“The number of trucks that are going to start filling up the interstate system is one of the crucial things to I-75 and I-16 as far as economic development on those two major highways.”
What companies look for
In addition to a good transportation system, most company prospects also are looking for a few other key attributes.
A good education system is important, and Beasley said companies can find that in Laurens County’s public and private schools. This fall, for example, the Heart of Georgia College & Career Academy will be the only school in Georgia to offer global logistics courses, according to a news release from the school. Also, Oconee Fall Line Technical College offers training classes and “has an economic development department, so they work with us real close,” Beasley said.
Additionally, the cultural background of the city and county is important, Beasley said.
The county boasts of a diversified international group with the newer foreign-based companies as well as Japanese-based YKK AP America, which makes aluminum building products for the commercial industry. YKK has been in the county since 1992.
“One thing that is absolutely super is a growing downtown (Dublin),” Beasley said. “About $20 million has been spent downtown in the last four, five, six years. ... We have new restaurants and new businesses opening downtown.”
Willie Paulk, president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, said of all the things that attract a business, good leadership is the most critical.
“I’ve been here almost 24 years, and even prior to my coming, the development authority set a vision for themselves that they wanted to make this community a desirable place to live and to attract industry,” Paulk said. “That leadership has continued over these years.”
It takes a lot of different people to bring a project to the area, she said.
“In the end, we are married, and we’re all in the same family, and we make it work,” she said.
Nico Wijnberg, project manager for international projects with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, agrees that good leadership plays a role in Dublin-Laurens County’s success.
“Their seamless economic development team ... is backed by a strong local leadership,” Wijnberg said by email. “In recent years, this team has developed a progressive, long-term strategy to prepare sites and finance incentives for companies in these industries. There’s a lot of cleared and graded community-owned land in Dublin, and the local team has worked hard to develop more sites there.”
Beyond logistics and workforce, international companies also like to see a positive relationship between the community and existing international companies, “which helps advocate Dublin overseas as a great location for business,” Wijnberg said.
Manufacturing jobs, in particular, aren’t for a low-educated workforce, he said.
“They are looking for people with skills in advanced manufacturing,” he said.
The state doesn’t dictate where companies land in the state, said Charlie Gatlin, special projects coordinator with the state’s economic development office.
“Dublin has done a good job and so have other communities in Georgia,” Gatlin said.
“We are kind of in the matching-making business. We take requirements from companies and try to figure out where those requirements can be met. Every project is a little different from the other one, so sometimes Dublin will have opportunities, and sometimes they won’t. It depends on what the company’s needs are.”
recent companies ramp up
One the newer companies to locate in Laurens County is Erdrich Umformtechnik, which landed in the I-16 industrial park. The $39 million metal-stamping facility has hired a handful of people and is in the process of installing its presses, Beasley said. The company is expected to create 175 to 180 jobs at full capacity.
“They are continuously hiring and training people,” he said. “It should be producing product by September or October.”
In the Dublin Industrial District park, Dinex, which is investing $15 million in the former Eldorado Stone plant building, is expected to create about 250 new jobs.
The company is putting in new production lines “almost every day,” Beasley said. “Dinex is doing real well. ... Their numbers are on schedule with what they plan to do.”
Meanwhile, SP Fiber Technologies, which relocated from Atlanta to Dublin in 2012, is doing well particularly after switching from recycling white newsprint to recycling brown paper, Beasley said.
The company has filled the 35 expected jobs, Beasley said, adding “I think we will see some more growth.”
In addition to the new companies, Farmers Home Furniture announced last fall it would make a $4 million investment by expanding its distribution center and would generate 62 new jobs over 10 years.
The company bought the former Bassett Furniture building, and workers are still making it more suitable for a warehouse, Beasley said.
But not all is well in the “Emerald City.”
Two companies that so far haven’t worked out as expected are Green Power Solutions and MAGE Solar.
Green Power, a new biomass power plant expected to bring 35 to 40 jobs, was a joint venture with SP Fiber.
“My understanding is it’s not up and going yet,” Beasley said. “They are still on site at SP, and they are doing some partnerships.” But the company is not producing power so far.
Green Power was supposed to not only provide steam for the paper mill’s operations, but also to generate electricity to the electrical grid, according to a December 2012 release from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.
Also MAGE Solar, which built a solar assembly plant in Dublin and was expected to create 350 jobs, “fell on hard times,” Beasley said.
“The company was sold to investors,” he said. “They still have a sales force intact all over the country and have a few people (in Dublin). They just don’t have a large workforce.”
Manufacturing moving to U.S.
Middle Georgia is not the only place attracting manufacturers, especially from other countries.
“It seems to be that the global economy is behind some of this,” Gatlin, with Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, said. “We are continuing to see companies from all over the world interested in coming to the U.S. and to the Southeast, so Georgia has a chance to position our community for that growth.”
The automotive industry has been moving into the Southeast during the past 20 to 30 years, he said. As a result, suppliers such as Valmiera Glass follow those assembly plants.
“I think it’s interesting I have people say to me from companies: ‘I think I need to be in this part of the country, but can you explain why?’ Gatlin said. “It’s one of those situations where they intuitively know, but they just like to see some confirmation.”
Beasley said that for the most part Dublin-Lauren County is not competing with other communities inside Georgia for the same industries, because so many of the incentives are based on what the state will allow the development authority to do.
“I think our quality of life is the other quality we offer that’s not in a package,” Beasley said. “We don’t have as many amenities as Savannah, but we are two hours from the beach, two hours from Atlanta. ... We are in the middle of a lot. The bottom line is we have people who care and will give their time who will make an effort and stand behind the development authority.
“That’s the only secret I’m going to give you,” he said. “The authority works together. Everybody plays as a team.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this story. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.