The Rome-Floyd County Development Authority is planning a retreat soon to develop some recruitment strategies now that the transition to a new recruitment model is fully in place. Development Authority President Missy Kendrick said one of the items that will assuredly be on the agenda for that retreat will be the effort to find additional tracts of land for prospective industries to look at when they come to Rome.
Development Authority Chairman Jimmy Byars said the community is just one deal away from not having anything of any size to show a prospect. The largest tract currently available is the 100-plus acre site at the intersection of Ga. 53 and Ga. 140 about 10 miles northeast of Rome.
“We need land to keep us on the radar screen,” Byars said. “Whether they buy that land or not, they’re looking to mark you off the list, and if you don’t have anything to show them they just mark you off the list.”
Aside from the large site at Ga. 53 and 140, the county has a few smaller tracts, a couple of them near the Lowe’s Regional Distribution Center off Ga. 140, a couple in the Floyd County Industrial Park, and some acreage in the privately controlled North by Northwest Industrial Park which is home to Balta, the former Florida Tile facility. That site includes three tracts which range in size from 17 to 59 acres. A large parcel owned by the joint Gordon-Floyd County Development Authority off East Hermitage Road is in the process of being acquired by Ball Container Corp. Finally, any number of potential tracts are available along Technology Parkway, known as the Berry Corporate Center.
There are also a number of potential tracts on the sprawling grounds of Richard B. Russell Regional Airport north of Rome. One of those tracts could offer a prospect as much as 125 acres. When the primary runway at the airport gets a 1,000-foot extension, which has been delayed by bids that all came in well over the original budget, the airport is likely to be even more attractive to a major industrial client.
The county has money earmarked from both the 2013 and 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax packages, some $11.3 million, to help acquire property and develop infrastructure if necessary. County officials did not return calls to the Rome News-Tribune for an update on how much of that money has already been spent.
Real estate agents like to talk about location, location and location when it comes to making deals work. As it relates to the recruitment of new industry, Kendrick said access to the interstate is probably more important than immediate proximity to the interstate.
“If we can find some good property that’s on a good four-lane road that will provide good access, then we won’t hear many complaints about it,” Kendrick said. “The ones that have to be right on the interstate are not going to be looking here, having immediate access to the interstate is not going to be their No. 1 concern.”
Byars pointed to the new Southeastern Mills Center for Superior Logistics which opened this past Thursday as a prime example of a company not necessarily needing to be right on the interstate.
“They’ve got trucks running all over the U.S.,” Byars said.
Rome Mayor Bill Collins, one of the constitutional members of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority, said there is virtually no land left inside the city limits of Rome for industrial growth, and the proliferation of land that has been put into conservation use valuations, a state program, or the federal conservation easement program in the unincorporated areas of Floyd County has made it tough to find large parcels.
The chief appraiser for Floyd County, Danny Womack, said that nearly a third of the acreage in Floyd County, more than 113,700 acres, is currently tied up in the state conservation use valuation program. That land is assessed at 40% of current-use value, generally a significantly reduced rate as opposed to fair market value. In exchange for the favorable tax treatment, owners have to keep the land undeveloped in a qualifying use for 10 years or incur stiff penalties.
Womack said he was not sure how much was tied in the conservation easement program which is the focus of a congressional investigation into inflated values of land that is being protected in exchange for federal tax credits.
“We’re not going to let that deter us though,” Collins said.
The mayor also made reference to the ribbon cutting for the new Southeastern Mills warehouse and distribution center, and said that he was pleased to find out that the center may add as many as 25 jobs to the SEM workforce. “We welcome any growth,” Collins said.
Georgia Power’s economic development unit provided the community with a list of prospective properties that the community has been examining for months. Some have been ruled out, others are tied up in conservation easements. Kendrick said the county may ultimately have to link together several tracts of land in order to get the size right.
While companies are not necessarily looking to locate in an “industrial park,” Kendrick said it makes sense to try to put something together where the cost of providing infrastructure — heavy gas lines, a major electrical service line, water and sewer — can be shared by multiple tenants.
The lack of utilities out U.S. 411 from Rome to Cartersville could be a holdup to further development in that area. With a new, heavy natural gas line that is being installed out Ga. 20, the Alabama Highway area could be attractive for future development.
One thing is clear according to Byars, the acquisition of additional land is of paramount importance to bring new jobs to Rome and Floyd County.