Tractor Supply Co. to build $50 million distribution center in south Bibb

Patience paid off in a big way Monday as fast-growing Tractor Supply Co. picked Bibb County for a new $50 million distribution center that will bring 200 new jobs.

The 650,000-square-foot facility -- about three times the size of the Sara Lee distribution center, its neighbor in the I-75 Business Park -- could open by fall 2013.

The large project is just what local leaders envisioned when they ran water, sewer and other utilities to undeveloped areas of the 489-acre park off Hartley Bridge Road.

“Because of the economic downturn, we could have divided the land up for smaller companies,” said Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. “We chose to hold on for a bigger project.”

While area economic developers were being patient, Tractor Supply officials had an urgent need for a new distribution center to replace its leased, outgrown center in Braselton. The Tennessee-based company plans to build 95 new stores next year and possibly as many the following year, and the I-75 Business Park was the “ideal location,” said Gregory Sandfort, the company’s president and chief operating officer.

“That growth means we need infrastructure,” Sandfort told a crowd of about 200 gathered at Monday’s announcement. “This facility will be our second-largest. It will be the latest and greatest in technology. ... We want to be up and running in a year.”

Sandfort said the company needed a building closer to the Port of Savannah and closer to interstates. And, he said, “we want a community that wants us there.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle praised the teamwork of Macon and Bibb officials, as well as efforts to develop the area’s work force.

“They made a significant investment, and they really came together as elected officials,” Cagle said. “Macon and Bibb County have taken a very significant step forward.”

The I-75 Business Park is a joint development of the industrial authority and the Macon Water Authority. Officials just finished $3.2 million in infrastructure upgrades, paid in part by a federal disaster grant after the 2008 Mother’s Day tornadoes. The grant was awarded for economic stimulus, and it was used to expand water and sewer service and to erect a 1-million-gallon water tank on the other side of Hartley Bridge Road.

Officials also built a three-lane road into the undeveloped area of the park. The road is now named “Tractor Supply Boulevard.”

“That was the final piece of the deal,” the industrial authority’s Whitby said with a grin.

Sandfort also said an incentives package offered to the company was key to its coming to Bibb County. He called it a “win-win for both sides of the table.”

The company will get a 15-year tax abatement that amounts to about a 70 percent savings, said Kevin Brown, the industrial authority’s attorney. The longer term was given “to get them ramped up,” Brown said.

The new distribution center will be four stories tall, and the building itself will occupy 16 acres.

The Bibb County Commission also allocated for the project the use of up to $3.9 million in special purpose local option sales tax money that had been earmarked for economic development.

“Without the water authority and the county working together, the industrial authority would not have been able to get this company here,” Whitby said.

Earlier Monday, the industrial authority approved an inducement package to finalize the deal that included the transfer of authority-owned property in the park to the company. The authority has about 180 acres remaining in the park.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the project never would have happened if voters had not passed the SPLOST.

“These are your pennies at work,” Hart said. “When you cooperate and work together, people tend to look differently at your community.”

State incentives included job tax credits, investment tax credits and Quick Start job training for employees, said Gretchen Corbin, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Local officials also rolled out a big welcome Monday. The announcement came under a big, air-conditioned white tent pitched at the end of Tractor Supply Boulevard. A catered lunch featured a spread of peeled shrimp, smoked chicken wings, fresh fruit and more. And, of course, sweet tea.

“This is another example of how Macon -- and Middle Georgia -- has really established itself as a true logistics hub,” said Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission.

Topping said the July 31 sales tax referendum for regional transportation projects could make the midstate even more attractive to new industry.

“We’ll see more logistics, but not just that, more manufacturing companies,” he said.

Tractor Supply Co. has more than 1,100 stores in 44 states and promotes itself as the country’s largest farm and ranch store chain. It has a half-dozen stores in Middle Georgia, including Macon, Byron, Dublin and Milledgeville.

“Tractor Supply Co. is one of those places I can get lost in for hours,” said Lt, Gov. Cagle. “It’s got everything a man wants.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.