Almost 230 years after becoming a state, there’s good reason for Georgia to be on everyone’s mind. Georgia was selected the “#1 State for Business in America” in 2014 according to Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC). In 2014, Area Development Magazine ranked Georgia “#1 State for Doing Business”. Site Selection Magazine ranked Georgia “#1 State Business Climate” in both 2013 and 2014.
Centrally located, Putnam County was created in 1807 and is one of 159 counties in the state. The county is quickly positioning itself as a vibrant hub of activity for industry, tourism and recreation.
Putnam County was named for General Israel Putnam, who fought during the American Revolution. Putnam County, which is nestled between Lakes Oconee and Sinclair, has a population of approximately 22,000 and is located 75 miles southeast of the state capital of Atlanta and 37 miles northeast of Macon. The county seat, incorporated as a city in 1879, is Eatonton (population 6,500).
The Putnam Development Authority was created by the State of Georgia in 1968. The constitutional authority’s mandate is to foster an economically-sound business environment in the city of Eatonton and throughout Putnam County via a number of performance-based incentives.
“We have several state incentives that we can work with including job tax credits and tax exemptions,” says Terry Schwindler, Putnam Development Authority’s Economic Development Director. “Locally, we have a tax abatement program which is dependent on the number of jobs and investment in the community, it’s a sliding scale. The more jobs [businesses] create, the better the incentive is.”
Other county incentives include the HUB Zone Program (Historically Underutilized Business Zones). The national Small Business Administration (SBA) program was created to stimulate job creation and economic development by aiding small businesses that have obtained HUB Zone certification. There are a number of criteria to be met for eligibility for the program, one of which is that employees must reside in a designated HUB Zone and the business must be considered small by SBA standards.
The national EB5 visa for immigrant investors allows a means of obtaining a permanent residence status for foreign investors who help create and secure U.S. jobs. “The entire county is eligible for the EB5 Program,” adds Terry.
The county also has its “Opportunity Zone” program that qualifies new or existing businesses to receive a maximum job tax credit of $3,500 toward the revitalization of specific commercial and industrial areas in need of redevelopment. The credit is available for businesses that create two or more jobs. “Part of the downtown area is also within our opportunity zone, so there are job tax credits for the employees that they hire within that zone,” says Terry.
For businesses considering expansion or relocation, the county’s One-Stop Environmental Permitting Program is set up to issue federal permits more quickly. “Everything is through the Planning and Development Department [in combination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency],” says Terry. “We work with them to expedite the process.
Seventy-five to eighty percent of all new jobs come from our existing businesses. We regularly work with the businesses to help them grow. We want everybody that comes here to stay here.”
Eatonton has two major industrial parks: South Eatonton-Putnam County Industrial Park (500 acres) and Sammons Industrial Park (110 acres).
The authority owns 121 acres in the South Eatonton-Putnam County Industrial Park and “we’re currently doing some development and making a pad-ready site of about twenty-five acres,” continues Terry. She also notes that its smaller North Industrial Park has thirteen acres available, also owned by the authority.
“The Sammons Industrial Park is not owned by the development authority, but is mostly bank owned and readily available for sale,” says Terry. “It has 25 acres of industrial zoned sites & 65 acres of commercial zoned sites. This park is located near Lake Oconee and is only 11 miles from I-20.”
Recently opened is Eatonton’s 150-acre Rock Eagle Technology Park. Thus far, two buildings are occupied by Aalto Scientific, LTD., a leading a biotechnology company, and its subsidiary, AUDIT MicroControls Incorporated. “We moved our corporate and manufacturing facility to Georgia in order to grow our business,” says Aalto Scientific President, Steve Mauro.
Aalto Scientific invested over $9 million to move its headquarters and manufacturing facility from California to Eatonton, a move that indicates Putnam County is becoming a strong player in the manufacturing and biosciences sectors. By July 2015, Aalto Scientific’s presence in the facility, “will be at one hundred percent and have about eighty employees,” Terry says.
“We’re currently looking at developing a couple more lots in [Rock Eagle], to make them pad-ready,” says Terry. “We’re probably talking five to eight acres each.” The technology park is located just twelve miles from I-20, a major east/west corridor.
Baxter International’s more than $1 billion manufacturing facility construction is underway in Covington in Newton County, Georgia, just thirty-five miles from Rock Eagle Technology Park. Construction is expected to be completed in 2016, and the company anticipates being fully operational by early 2018. “We’re in the ring of accessibility for suppliers, so we expect to start getting some inquiries from companies that want to be suppliers for Baxter,” Terry explains.
Putnam County has an excellent transportation infrastructure with accessibility to roads, rail and airports. Four major Interstate highways (I-75, I-20, I-16 and I-475) and U.S. Highway 441 accommodate crucial supply chain management in all directions.
The Port of Savannah, the fastest growing and fourth largest container port in the U.S., is 185 miles to the southeast on I-16. The Norfolk Southern Railroad has twenty miles of track in Putnam County and, on average, has four trains transporting freight daily.
The closest commercial airports to Eatonton are the Middle Georgia Regional, fifty-four miles south in Macon and the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Airport, thirteen miles south. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is, “the busiest international airport in the world,” says Terry, “and is only 78 miles away.”
Putnam County has traditionally been a key player in the agricultural sector and remains so today. Other target industries include manufacturing, biotechnology/health sciences, distribution/warehousing/logistics, forestry, IT, and tourism.
“We span several industries so we’re not locked into one or two,” shares Terry. She also notes that, “We focus a lot on distribution/warehousing because we have a prime location on U.S. Highway 441.”
“Our technology focus is in the IT hardware and software arena. We have one company that’s doing a lot of expansion right now: ViziTech USA. They’re one of our highest paying employers, with many skilled workers. They create advanced 3D software training systems for numerous industries.”
“We also have a lot of small businesses that manufacture things that go into the high-end lake homes: custom cabinet makers, custom countertops [and] rod iron work … with the lakes we have boat dock and boat launch manufacturers.”
Eatonton-Putnam County acknowledges that having a skilled, educated and readily-available workforce is a priority to meet the demand of a diversified economy. Its high school, which is part of the Putnam County Charter School System, recently added a college and career academy onto the facility.
“The high school works with the technical college system to offer dual enrollment. The kids that are in high school are taking college classes at the same time. Many of the [students] are coming out with technical certificates, and even associates degrees, when they graduate high school.”
A significant part of the college programming is for skilled trades such as construction, welding, health sciences and IT. “The pipeline of labor that’s coming out of the high school is intended to fill the jobs that we currently have and are trying to attract to the community.”
Additionally, there are a number of universities and colleges within forty miles of Eatonton including University of Georgia, Athens; Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville; and Mercer University, Middle Georgia State University, Wesleyan College, and Central Georgia Technical College in Macon.
A must-see in Eatonton is the Plaza Arts Center, which seats 525 and was opened in 2008. The center is a hub of artistic and cultural activities in the city’s historic downtown. There is also the Georgia Writers Museum, opened in 2014, which showcases the literary heritage of Georgia writers. The museum features forty-five authors, nine of whom come from Putnam County.
Bill Sharp, chairman of the Putnam Development Authority, notes that, “For a community our size, we have some of the nicest arts available. We’ve done very well with the arts here.”
Georgia’s Antebellum Trail offers a peek into the past with a walk through several communities that showcase the area’s museums and battle sites as well as unique historic architecture – trademarks of the old south.
When asked what makes Eatonton-Putnam County next to perfect, Terry shares, “A lot has to do with our quality of life. We have everything from the historic antebellum homes to world-class golf courses. We have two lakes, Oconee and Sinclair, which have 800 miles of shoreline. It’s basically a sportsman’s paradise. … Once people come here, they don’t want to leave. It’s that hometown feel. It’s a great place to work, live and play.” Now, that’s something else to think about.