Houston Development Authority elects officers

WARNER ROBINS – The Houston County Development Authority elected new officers Wednesday while it considered a possible opportunity zone for the county.

Neal Talton was elected chairman, and Shaw Blackmon was named vice chairman for 2009-2010. They assume their duties in July.

Guy Starling was re-elected secretary-treasurer, and Mark Byrd assistant secretary-treasurer. The slate of officers was adopted unanimously.

This will be Talton’s second stint as chairman. The Houston County dairy farmer, who has been on the authority since 1995, also was chairman from 2002-03.

He replaces Neal Rearden, who has been chairman the past three years.

Members are appointed to the authority by the Houston County Commission for six-year terms, but they elect their own officers each year.

Meanwhile, Nick Kouloungis of the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center, which is working with the authority to identify possible opportunity zone areas, updated the members on that work.

Opportunity zones are areas in need of redevelopment that would be suitable for commercial or industrial growth. If designated as an opportunity zone, businesses that locate there are eligible for tax breaks from the state.

The program is administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

To qualify, areas must be located in or adjacent to census blocks where 15 percent or more of their residents are at or below the poverty level. That makes most of Warner Robins and nearly all of the southern half of the county eligible.

But Kouloungis pointed out that to be approved by the DCA, the area also must include blighted areas that need to be redeveloped.

“The county then would have to come up with a urban redevelopment plan for the area and submit it to the DCA for approval to obtain opportunity zone designation and the tax credits,” Kouloungis said.

The authority is working with Houston County commissioners to find areas appropriate for opportunity zones. Authority Executive Director Morgan Law said the authority first suggested a strip along Ga. 247 and the 247 Spur, stretching from the Frito Lay plant to the Cemex plant, as a possible opportunity zone.

But Kouloungis said Wednesday that surveys of the area found that the area most likely to win approval is just north of the Frito Lay plant because it has some blighted parcels that could be included in a redevelopment plan.

“You have a wide area of the county that qualifies economically, but much of that is either residential or agricultural that really doesn’t have the blight that needs to be redeveloped,” Kouloungis said. “That’s not to say those areas wouldn’t be suitable for development, but that isn’t considered redevelopment, and that is what this program is intended to address.”

Law said he will continue working with the RDC to identify an area suitable for the designation and that the authority then would present its recommendation to the County Commission.

In other action Wednesday:

Ÿ The authority approved releasing the first $150,000 of the $250,000 it has pledged to Little League International for it to use in building its new regional headquarters and tournament stadium.

The state is providing nearly $600,000 in grants for the facilities, which are projected to cost more than $5.5 million.

The county donated the land, 26 acres off Cohen Walker Road valued at $867,000. Warner Robins has pledged $500,000 of in-kind services to prepare the site. Little League will provide the remaining $3.3 million.

Ÿ The authority is planning a procurement seminar for businesses wanting to learn how they can obtain work for the state or federal governments. It will be held July 14 at Middle Georgia Technical College. Those wanting more information should call the authority at 923-5470.

Ÿ Law reported that two new industry prospects had recently toured Houston County and that the authority would continue to work to try to persuade them to locate in the county.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.