WARNER ROBINS -- The Robins Regional Outlook was supposed to be about the future, but a good bit of it was also a look back.
Specifically, about 150 people at Tuesday's event heard the inside story of what it took to lure Sandler AG last year to the county's speculative building. The building had been vacant since it was constructed in 2001.
Angie Gheesling, executive director of the Houston County Development Authority, has received much of the credit for bringing the German textile company to the county. She was the keynote speaker at Tuesday's luncheon and spent a good bit of her time giving credit to others.
She described a wide-ranging, highly competitive effort that involved many organizations. As she named off each group that played a role, she asked those who belong to that organization to stand. By the time she was done, the majority of the room was standing, and that was before she asked everyone who voted for the special local option sales tax to stand.
"People truly do make the difference," she said. "So thank you. I am grateful."
Landing the company, which is expected to bring 150 jobs, was a major coup, she said. Gheesling gave a detailed account of some of the behind-the-scenes efforts.
The company wanted to speak to the builder of the speculative building, which was built 14 years ago. Gheesling said that was Parrish Construction, and a representative met with Sandler AG officials at length.
Germans consider air conditioning to be unhealthy, so like most Germans, Sandler AG owner Christian Sandler was not used to it. He asked for a hotel room where the window would open, and Glen Starlnecker, general manager of the Marriott Courtyard, secured one for him. But the visit was in July, so for backup, in case Sandler found the Georgia heat too unbearable, Starlnecker brought in another air conditioner that was quieter than the regular room AC.
The company wanted to check out where employees might live, and several apartment complexes gave tours on short notice.
Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who lives in Bonaire, went to Germany with Gheesling to meet with Sandler AG officials.
Gheesling said the announcement that the company was coming was a year to the day after she first got the call that they were interested in Houston County. At that time, Sandler AG was looking at 13 states and 150 communities.
"It was a major process of nothing but elimination," she said.
She said Sandler AG has been in existence in Germany for 135 years, and the owner did not initially want to expand to the U.S.
"His young nephew had a different vision, but he had to prove it," Gheesling said. "This was a different process, because someone was really having to prove something."
She also spent some time Tuesday talking about prospects of luring more industry. She said the county is well poised with three large tracts of land set aside for industrial development, along with other advantages. Gheesling said the experience with Sandler AG has been important in making industry recruitment an international effort.
"We are primed for it, thanks to what we have been through with Sandler and our exposure to umpteen hundred consultants," she said. "(Christian) Sandler is a leader in Germany in the industrial world. Don't you think they are looking at him to see how this goes?"
Also speaking briefly at the luncheon were Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms, Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth and Centerville Mayor John Harley. Each spoke about efforts in their cities to improve the quality of life. Gheesling said that is also important to luring industry.
The luncheon, hosted by the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce, was held at the Sonny Watson Health Sciences Building at Central Georgia Technical College.
It also featured a passing of the gavel, as Sonya Jenkins, the chairwoman of the chamber board, handed off the duty to Priscilla Raffield.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.