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Top local business stories of 2010

The past year was tough on most businesses as the effects of the recession lingered into 2010. Some businesses were forced to close, banks continued to take a hit as they deal with tighter regulations in a down economy, commercial real estate centers -- some that began two years ago -- remain unfilled or never got off the ground.

But there were some bright spots this year as some companies decided to make Middle Georgia their home, other existing companies chose to expand here and other businesses were bought by new owners with plans for change.

The Telegraph takes a look back at 2010 and the top business stories.

1. The 30-year-old Macon Mall gets a new owner -- Augusta-based Hull Storey Gibson Cos. -- two years after the mall fell into foreclosure. Company president John Gibson said that to build the mall up, it must first tear some of it down. Plans include demolishing the east wing, which was added in the late 1990s as part of a $50 million expansion. Once the wing is demolished, the area likely will be used as green space for outdoor promotions and possibly redeveloped later. “We’re proud to be in Macon. ... We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Gibson said in September shortly after the sale.

2. Credit/debit card fraud hit the midstate in Warner Robins and Macon this year causing cardholders to find that their card numbers had been used in other states and countries. The first hit on bank cards happened in May in Warner Robins when Robins Federal Credit Union blocked and then reissued about 2,000 debit and credit cards after a security breach occurred in the process between the Mellow Mushroom restaurant and the card processor. Then beginning in the fall, a rash of credit/debit card fraud began showing up in Macon and Bibb County. This situation remains under investigation, but the identity fraud is widespread, occurring at a number of places and involving a number of banks and financial institutions. Police investigators and the financial institutions have said it’s difficult to pinpoint how the card numbers were stolen.

3. First Quality Baby Products LLC in Macon plans to invest $200 million in an expansion, saving more than 200 jobs and creating 150 new jobs. The diaper manufacturer plans to build a new $35 million facility on property at its existing plant on Avondale Mill Road in south Bibb County. First Quality bought the Macon facility in 2009 from Covidien, formerly Tyco Healthcare.

4. The banking industry continues to take a hit from the down economy as it is unable to unload foreclosed properties while at the same time regulations require banks to beef up their capital. Nearly 40 banks have failed during the past two years in Georgia and many of the state’s 300 banks have been placed on “watch lists,” which means some have even greater regulatory oversight. Joe Evans, president/CEO of Macon-based State Bank and Trust, which took over failed Security Bank in 2009, said in November: “I have lived through my share of economic downturns. This is, however, the first financial crisis of my career where community banks have been at the epicenter.”

5. The commercial real estate industry also took a powerful hit in 2009 as several pieces of property, slated for big shopping complexes a couple of years ago, were in 2010 overgrown with weeds and bushes. In Bibb County in 2007, 122 commercial building permits representing a value of $155.9 million were issued, compared to 2009 when 15 permits valued at $11.3 million were issued. The decline in the number of projects affects several careers including real estate agents, architects, land planners, contractors and all their subcontractors, including electricians, plumbers, painters and others.

6. Germany-based MAGE Solar announced it would be moving its North American headquarters to Dublin. It plans to move into the former Rockwell Automation building, investing $30 million and hiring 350 people during the next five years. The company will manufacture solar panels in the 190,000-square-foot building.

7. The former Regal Rivergate Cinema 14 at Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard and Northside Drive in Macon, which opened nearly two decades ago, was bought by Birmingham, Ala.-based Naos Entertainment. A Regal Entertainment official said the company’s lease was up and they decided not to renew it. Naos plans to invest $1 million in a major renovation of the cinema. It gutted the lobby, moved the concession stands and rest rooms and installed more than 1,000 new seats in eight of the building’s 14 theaters before reopening just before Thanksgiving. The remaining theaters are expected to reopen after the first of the year.

8. Canada-based Bombardier Aerospace -- with a long, varied and global background -- took over Atlantic Southeast Airline’s 90,000-square-foot building at Middle Georgia Regional Airport. At the announcement in January, the company expected to retain most of the 120 ASA workers and planned to employ about 160 people at the facility in the near future. Bombardier is the world’s third largest civil aircraft manufacturer, according to the company. Bombardier predominantly will be doing the maintenance on ASA’s Canadair Regional Jet aircraft that Bombardier builds.

9. Timco Aviation Services plans to nearly double its Macon workforce, adding 100 jobs this year and 30 by the middle of next year. The facility would begin working on Boeing 767 wide-body jets. The company overhauls and maintains every part of an airplane except for internal engine parts, and it can handle up to six airplanes at a time in the Macon facility.

10. After weeks of haggling, The Medical Center of Central Georgia and United Healthcare settled its contract dispute that had made the hospital an “out-of-network” provider, costing member patients more for treatment. About 125 patients a month at the Medical Center were covered by United Healthcare insurance and it is one of two choices of health insurance by state workers.

Some other 2010 business stories making news

— After the Ramada Plaza, for years Macon’s premier downtown hotel, went into bankruptcy and was put up for auction, a new owner bought the 298-room hotel for $1.9 million at a bank auction.

— Indigo Custom Publishing, Macon’s well-known book publisher for nearly a decade, went out of business with a trail of lawsuits and liens totaling nearly $1 million.

— In July, the Fox Run Country Club at the North Bibb Barrington Hall subdivision went under new ownership after teetering on the brink of foreclosure for months.

— Blue Bird Corp. announced it was closing its LaFayette bus plant -- leaving 350 people without jobs -- and folding the operation into its Fort Valley headquarters. The company had been in operation since 1988 and produced conventional school buses.

— About 70 employees with Cox Communications -- or 35 percent of the workforce -- were slated to be laid off as the company consolidated the midstate operations with Cox Florida. At the same time, about 50 new jobs were created, and laid-off workers in Middle Georgia would be provided an opportunity to apply for those jobs.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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