Doing Business Outside the Lines

The Development Authority of Douglas County, GA
Written by Samita Sarkar

Known for its serene parks, educated workforce, and high quality of life at an affordable cost of living, Douglas County is one of the State of Georgia’s rising stars for business.
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The beautiful county of 141,000 residents – with 40,000 in the county seat of Douglasville – is home to Georgia’s most visited park, Sweet Water Creek Conservation. The beautiful 2,500-acre park has opportunities for white water rafting and kayaking for those who love outdoor sports, hiking trails for nature lovers and Civil War ruins for history buffs, and is nestled right in the middle of the community. The county is also located near Georgia’s Six Flags amusement park, and is just 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta for those who enjoy the arts, museums and entertainment options of a larger metropolis.

Of course, being in such close proximity to Atlanta also means easy access to Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest airport. Luckily for both business owners and those looking to raise a family, the prime location doesn’t come at too steep a price tag – the median home value in Douglas is a reasonable $174,000. While being close and friendly neighbors with the state capital is certainly convenient, Douglas County has much more to offer entrepreneurs on its own.

“I would describe Douglas County as the perfect place to do business,” says Chris Pumphrey, Executive Director of The Development Authority of Douglas County.

The goal of The Development Authority of Douglas County is to bolster economic and workforce development by bringing government bodies, educational institutions, nonprofit workforce entities, and private companies together to ensure that Douglas-based businesses continue to thrive.

As a case in point, last year was a phenomenal year for the County. In 2017, The Authority announced over $3.3 billion in new investments into Douglas County, driven mainly by data centers. “We have been a logistical haul for distribution and warehouses, and will be for a long time, but we are seeing our market start to diversify,” adds Pumphrey.

Among the county’s most successful industries are advanced manufacturing, financial services, and retail. The educated population tends to have a higher amount of disposable income available for shopping and entertainment businesses to capitalize on. And the City of Douglasville’s downtown core is a perfect place for such a business to set up.

“We are, in partnership with the City of Douglasville, about to embark on a mixed-use development project downtown, so we’ll have a livelier downtown in the coming years. The city has just purchased 10 acres to build an amphitheatre and look at restaurant and office options to be built around that public space,” says Pumphrey.

The downtown development plan was announced in late 2017 – an ambitious, 10-year master plan that when fully implemented will add almost 1 million square feet of new development. The goals of the revitalization project include conserving Douglas’ southern small-town charm while enhancing the business environment and promoting Douglasville’s historic resources, nature preserves, green space, and arts and culture.

For businesses seeking the unique qualities that Douglas has to offer, The Development Authority’s new campaign is “outside the lines”: an invitation to new residents and businesses to look at opportunities beyond the typical costs and hassle associated with larger cities, while considering the fresh start that an affordable, diverse, and safe small-town community like Douglas can provide.

“In Douglas, you can live outside the lines, work outside the lines, and play outside the lines,” Pumphrey explains. “We are redoing all of our website and marketing materials to ensure that people know all the great things that exist here in the community. We are also just now hiring a Director of Business Recruitment whose sole focus is going to be on targeting our key sectors.”

Douglas County already has the workforce available to meet those demands. West Georgia Technical College is a vital partner of The Development Authority. A strong component of the Authority’s strategy is cultivating a workforce pipeline that can provide the talent for its targeted industries, and the college is essential to that goal.

“The Douglasville campus is a huge partner for economic development, supporting the community, working with our school system and working with other places of higher education. The college provides a lot of the training for the new companies that we bring in,” divulges Pumphrey.

For example, The Authority has formerly worked with Gordon Food Service, a 121-year-old Michigan-based foodservice distributor that serves the eastern United States. One of the largest privately held companies in the country, Gordon Food Service reached out when looking to relocate a facility in Georgia.

Upon going through the recruitment process, The Development Authority connected Gordon Food Service with Georgia Quick Start, a state-wide training incentive that provides customized training for new hires at no cost to the company. Quick Start – the State of Georgia’s signature business program – is provided via the Technical College System of Georgia.

Because the business decided on locating to Douglas County, West Georgia Tech College was the administrator of that workforce training, assisting in the on-boarding of Gordon Food Service’s new hires, as it did for the nation’s largest private medical manufacturer and distributor, Medline Industries, as well. In fact, since locating to Douglas eight years ago, Medline Industries continues to use the Quick Start training materials that were provided to it at the time for all its new recruits to this day.

“All of their new hires have been able to utilize that program, and now West Georgia Tech also helps on the back end, working with Medline on leadership development and to help upgrade their existing staff so they can rise through the ranks within the organization. They help on the front end and also with ongoing workforce development,” says Pumphrey.

Douglas County also takes proactive measures to ensure that its residents continue to have opportunities in competitive work environments – for instance, by exposing high school and middle school children to options they may encounter down the road, either through informing them of the companies that are in the county and having those companies come talk to the students, or taking the students to visit the companies so that they can get a better sense of direction when they are choosing their high school pathways and ultimately planning to go to a post-secondary institution and/or join the workforce.

For those who are disinterested in attending an institution of higher learning but who still wish to develop skills for a meaningful career, The Development Authority has recently taken an outside-the-box approach and created a new program called Career Ready Training. “We took 25 students who had no intention of going to college, took them on a tour of the industries in Douglas, and opened up an opportunity for them to get some soft-skill training,” Pumphrey tells us.

In partnership with a handful of local companies that were all committed to the new program and interested in interviewing those high school students, The Development Authority assisted in having the students exposed to the work environments, trained, and interviewed as part of the program. “Twenty of the 25 were hired as full-time employees of those companies,” remarks Pumphrey. Because the results were quite successful, The Authority would like to continue the Career Ready Training program on an annual basis.

To better serve innovative incoming companies interested in doing business outside the lines, other future plans include improving the commercial real estate available in the county while seeking massive planning sites and ways to create public-private partnerships to make the most out of these potential developments. Incoming business owners will enjoy the fresh and friendly ambience, close to both the amenities and the natural beauty that a life in Douglas affords them and their workers.

“Part of our strategy in support of our target sectors is identifying real estate options that are suitable for those sectors. We are now in the process of acquiring land sites for future development. We’re looking at development corridors that will be attractive for those sectors, and can make partnerships to move these large real estate assets forward to be ready for the prospects that we entertain bringing in,” Pumphrey concludes.

Businesses considering the Douglas community can learn more at www.developdouglas.com.

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