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10-31-08 Oconee Clarke Economic Development partnership is bad idea as proposed

Why has this proposal been kept under wraps until well after the July 15 Primary when most Oconee Commissioners were challenged?................................Did all the Commissioners know about the work of the task force?...............Who chose the make-up of the Task Force?

AVOC

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October 30, 2008

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Oconee – Clarke Economic Development partnership is bad idea as proposed

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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I think the joint Oconee-Clarke Economic Development partnership is a bad idea as proposed.  There are a lot of unanswered questions that need addressing.   As a native Oconee County citizen and long-time County Official, I am not warm and fuzzy about our economic development efforts being conducted at the office of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce in Downtown Athens.

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            SOME IMMEDIATE QUESTONS:

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            Why has this proposal been kept under wraps until well after the July 15 Primary when most Oconee Commissioners were challenged?

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            Did all the Commissioners know about the work of the task force?

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            Who chose the make-up of the Task Force?    Where are regular citizens?  (Pat Allen is listed as UGA Liaison but in 1993, he was chair of the Athens Chamber and was President of C & S Bank when we were courting Mercedes- he is an Athenian at heart)

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            It is easy to say that Government should run like a business but it defies reality. Government is a service industry and not a profit making entity.   Persons never serving in elective office cannot always appreciate the pitfalls.

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            Some want to consolidate the two counties and what impact will this agreement have on that idea?

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            Was any consideration given to the contrasting demographics and politics?

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Joint efforts are needed on development of the Orkin Property.   I have advocated this for 15 years since Mercedes considered the site.   However, we could never get the needed cooperation from Athens-Clarke County.   In my last months in office in late 2000, Doc Eldridge, Athens-Clarke Mayor, and I were in agreement on a memorandum of understanding.   It was built on the foundation of joint efforts on the Orkin Property.   I also advocated a “working partnership’ with the owners, the Orkin Family.   They had shown much interest in working on something of quality for this site.   They once said they wanted it to be a “signature development” near the University of Georgia.

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Everybody has a different opinion about what to do.   I once proposed a development plan that would be paid equally by Oconee and Clarke and include an agreement with Orkin.   I sensed some Athens officials did not want it because they could still dominate the utility needs.   That would allow much domination over placement of any facility coming to the site.   Approximately 2/3rds of the 900 acre + or -, is in Oconee County.However, that is the part that abuts University Parkway (GA 316).

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Ideas such as an authority, incorporation as a municipality and annexation into Bogart were considered.    The incentive was the fact that a purchaser or potential investor would want to deal with one-shop permitting, regulation and taxation.   Doc Eldridge and I had good ideas on those problems.   However, it has dragged on and the Orkin Tract still looks about like it did in 1993 when Governor Zell Miller agreed to buy and grade the site for Mercedes.


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Oconee Athens-Clarke Regional Economic Development Task Force 5.21.08-Excerpts

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Final Report of the

Oconee Athens-Clarke

Regional Economic Development

Task Force

May 21, 2008

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Task Force Membership

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Pat Allen, Director of Community Relations, University of Georgia

Asa Boynton, Owner and CEO, the Sentinel Group

Brian Brodrick, Partner, Jackson Spalding

Betty Brown-Williamson, Owner, Grandview Care Center & Gardenview Funeral Chapel

Paul Chambers, District Manager, AT&T

Sherrie Ford, Chairman & Executive Vice President for Culture, Power Partners, Inc.

Amrey Harden, President & CEO, Oconee State Bank

Laura Meadows, Associate Vice President for Economic Development, University of Georgia

Ed Perkins, President & CEO, Noramco, Inc.

Jim Sykes, Northeast Region Vice President, Georgia Power Co.

Flora Tydings, President, Athens Technical College

Chuck Williams, President & CEO, North Georgia Bank

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The members elected Ed Perkins as chairman and Jim Sykes as vice chairman of the task force. Staff support for the task force was provided by Laura Meadows and Sara Singleton of the University of Georgia. Rope Roberts of Georgia Power, Alan Reddish of Athens-Clarke County and Alan Theriault of Oconee County also served as valuable support resources to the group.

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Regular Task Force Meetings - The task force held nine meetings of approximately two hours in duration. With the exception of one meeting, which was held in Columbus, all meetings were held at Athens Technical College. In addition, subcommittees for structure and finance, respectively, held several meetings and conference calls. Attendance and predication by the task force members were exceptional. Meeting dates were: January 8th, 16 and 30th; February 13th and 27th; March 12th; April 3rd, 9, 23rd, and May 6th•…………………..

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http://onlineathens.com/multimedia/pdfs/100808development_agency.pdf

Executive Summary of AC-C and Oconee

Joint economic initiative report dated May 21, 2008

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See Page 12 for Membership and Resources

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10-16-08 Oconee Politics – Growth - Athens influence – Good & Bad

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5-26-06 Some Good News and Some Bad News in economic circles in NEGA

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12-20-04 Oconee’s Behind the Scenes “Wheeling & Dealing’

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4-14-07 Attitude limits Athens-Clarke Influence on Regional & State Issues

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10-14-08 Clarke and Oconee to Unite for Economic Development

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The Oconee Enterprise

http://www.oconeeenterprise.com/articles/2008/10/13/news/doc48ece040bc9c8167127139.txt

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October 8, 2008

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Clarke and Oconee unite for development

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By Blake Giles

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Time after time—in political forums, in studies, in private discussions with companies looking at moving to the area—the theme of a regional economic marketing effort kept surfacing.
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Now Oconee and Athens-Clarke are on the verge of formalizing a regional economic development effort.
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Melvin Davis, chairman of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, and Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison announced Tuesday that they hope to implement the recommendations of a regional economic development task force.
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Ed Perkins, president and CEO of the Noramco plant in Athens, presented to the Board of Commissioners Tuesday night a summary of the plan, which the commission will take up at a later date.

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If the commissioners adopt the recommendations of the task force, the first step will be the appointment of a 15-person board, including six people appointed from each county, plus one appointed by the University, and Davis and Davison. Then will come a formalized merger of the economic development efforts of the two communities, including shared financial resources. The entity will be housed at the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce office………………

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Most people see Clarke and Oconee as one entity,” said Perkins, who lives in Oconee County but works in Clarke County.
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The task force was charged with evaluating the feasibility of a regional economic development effort. They examined similar joint ventures across the state and even in Virginia. Perkins said that the task force did not come to a consensus, but instead were unanimous in recommending the implementation of a regional marketing effort.
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The long-range goal is to involve more counties, such as Barrow, Jackson, Madison and Oglethorpe. The structure of the organization is “scaleable.”

Funding will come from private sources as well as from public entities……………………


The Athens Banner-Herald

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/102408/new_347703778.shtml

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October 24, 2008

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(ACC) Commissioners question joint economic initiative

Concern over A-C's share of financial burden

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By BLAKE AUED

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Athens-Clarke commissioners are worried they won't get enough say in a regional economic development partnership with surrounding counties, but will be asked to foot most of the bill.

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Mayor Heidi Davison pulled from a Thursday night meeting agenda discussion about creating a partnership with Oconee County and delayed a vote until December.

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Both Athens-Clarke and Oconee officials support the partnership, but asked for time to clear up "a couple of long-term recommendations," Davison said.

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Early on, Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties would pool the money they now spend on economic development - for the Athens-Clarke government $ 150,000 annually from sales taxes on hotel and motel rooms.

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Both counties also would have equal representation on a board to oversee recruiting businesses to the region. The board also would include one University of Georgia representative.

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But down the road, when other surrounding counties can join the effort, each county would get equal representation and fund the initiative on a per-person basis. That means Clarke, the most populous county in the region, would pay more than other members, but have equal say.

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"I just want to ensure that, if we're paying the bill, we have the lion's share of the decision-making as well," Commissioner David Lynn said.

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Commissioners also don't want to go after sprawling or environmentally-damaging development they might disapprove of but other counties might want, Commissioner Kelly Girtz said.

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Oconee County commissioners could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

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Athens-Clarke commissioners said they don't want regional economic development to turn into an unfair partnership like MACORTS, a board that oversees state-funded transportation projects in Clarke, Oconee and part of Madison counties. Each MACORTS county has two board members even though Clarke has by far the largest population. Athens-Clarke officials have tried to change the makeup of MACORTS for years, but can't without approval from the other counties.

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Davison, Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis, local business leaders and economic development officials met for more than a year to develop the proposed partnership, which grew out of the OneAthens anti-poverty initiative.

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If both commissions approve the partnership, they will close up their separate economic development agencies and hand over job-recruiting responsibilities to three staff members in a new joint office at the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.


10-30-08 Oconee Commissioners have questions on “Joint Economic Development” with Athens-Clarke

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The Athens Banner-Herald

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/103008/new_349755635.shtml

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October 30, 2008

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Impulse on joint economic push tempers

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Officials want details

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By Adam Thompson

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WATKINSVILLE - Commissioners in Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties concur on at least one point of a proposed regional economic development agency - they want more details……

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Commissioners in both counties say they're behind the overall concept of working together to attract business investment and jobs to the area.

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But some leaders have fretted in the past two weeks about whether funding and control of the effort would be fair to each county. They have questions about other details as well and want a chance to clear the air before voting on the deal, Oconee commissioners said this week.

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"There seem to be some issues that have to be addressed and ironed out before we can make it happen," Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton said at a commission meeting Tuesday.

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The task force, which included business leaders and economic development experts, recommended the counties join forces and funding to create one agency - a regional chamber of commerce, most likely - that would market the region and bring a steady stream of jobs to both counties.

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But commissioners in the two counties need to be sure they share a vision before they move forward, Oconee Commissioner Margaret Hale said Wednesday.

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"I've asked for both boards to sit down together to see if that commitment is there," Hale said.

Hale doesn't want to appoint a regional economic development board only to have it fold if commissioners lose interest, she said.

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On Tuesday, Oconee Chairman Melvin Davis appointed Hale and Commissioner Jim Luke to represent the county in a joint meeting.

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The task force envisioned an agency that, in 10-15 years, would have grown to include as many as six counties, and suggested each county then would pay its share on a per-person basis.

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That formula irked some Athens-Clarke commissioners last week, who noted that the task force also recommended that each county have equal representation on the governing board.

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It wouldn't be fair for Athens-Clarke County, the most populous county in the area, to pay more to run the agency while other counties have just as much say in how it's run, they said…………………..


A MEMO I wrote in late 2000 about Orkin.
THE ORKIN SITE-A MEGA-SITE

IN

OCONEE and ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTIES

October 18, 2000

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The Orkin Tract consists of approximately 1,000 acres of land on GA 316 (University Parkway), U S Highway 78 and U S Highway 129 at the Oconee/Athens-Clarke County line.Approximately 2/3 of the tract is in Oconee County and fronts on University Parkway and Hwy 78.   The remaining 1/3 lies in Clarke County and fronts on Highways 78 and 129.

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The Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism (GA DITT) has identified the site as one of approximately 10 “mega-sites” in Georgia.Mega-sites are those that the State feels have potential for locating national or international companies for manufacturing.The Orkin Tract was the final Georgia location for the Mercedes search in 1993 that resulted in the Mercedes manufacturing plant locating in Alabama.On several other occasions, large companies who were not identified have looked at the site, the last being “Project Spider” in the summer of 2000.   This search was believed to be for a chip plant or some high-tech activity.

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With the University of Georgia’s work in bio-technology and transfer-technology and the State’s Yamacraw Project, the Orkin site is believed to be a strong contender for technology development because of its location near the University of Georgia and within one hour of Metro Atlanta.   It is thought by many to be a unique tract under single ownership affording an excellent opportunity for planned technology development that would have regional and state impact.It could have significant impact on the tax digests of both counties.

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Oconee and Athens-Clarke worked cooperatively with the prospects and the state as prospects have examined this site’s potential.   The owners of the land have been cooperative each time.However, there has been no continuing effort resulting in a rushed short-fused response to an inquiry or prospect’s interest.There are several issues to be addressed by the two counties involved: tax distribution; infrastructure costs; permitting, inspection and code enforcement; utility needs, state assistance, ownership agreement, etc.An intergovernmental agreement or memorandum of agreement is very much needed between Oconee and Athens-Clarke County addressing these and other issues.A working agreement, or leasing arrangement, is needed with the owner to tie down price and availability of the land for a definite buyer.

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There has been discussion over the years of a joint effort to provide “one-stop shopping” for the eventual buyer.Some have suggested an Authority.Others have suggested a joint effort of the

two county Development Authorities.   Some have suggested hiring consultants to act as “project manager” for both counties.

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This tract needs the attention and joint planning efforts of the two counties and owners as soon as possible.Delay has resulted in the loss of “institutional memory” because the parties and officials involved change from time to time.There needs to be a record and definite plan to deal with each other, any prospects and the state.

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                                                                        Wendell Dawson, Chairman

                                                                        Oconee County Board of Commissioners


10-21-07 Developing Orkin Tract may not be best for Athens

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The Athens Banner-Herald

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/102107/opinion_20071021047.shtml

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October 21, 2007

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Developing Orkin Tract may not be best for Athens

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By Doug Bachtel

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In 2001, I wrote an essay for the Banner-Herald with an idea for the "Orkin tract," the 900-plus acres at U.S. Highway 78 and Georgia Highway 316 straddling the Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County lines.

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Basically the idea expressed in the essay was to keep the property undeveloped as an industrial site, but maintained as a site for aesthetic purposes, with adequate compensation to the owners. Turn it into a type of Central Park, like the famous one in New York City. Keep the site undeveloped, and the community will grow around it faster than many suspect.

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My rationale in 2001 for the Central Park theme was based on the phenomenal pace of growth in the state as well as the Northeast Georgia region, which has the potential to turn our area into an overcrowded, asphalt and concrete maze of wall-to-wall subdivisions, strip malls, convenience stores and municipalities. Think this vision is far-fetched? Just look at coastal Florida or Los Angeles.

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This rationale was based entirely on the rapid population growth and high population density in the region. Now, I have expanded the concept to include unemployment rates, local educational attainment and skill levels, traffic and a "smart growth" perspective.

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To begin, Athens-Clarke County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Georgia and the nation.

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However, we also have low wage rates, due to a wide variety of factors such as the types of jobs, which include numerous low-skill types of opportunities - entry-level clerical positions in the education and medical fields, retail and service jobs, and jobs which attract minorities such as poultry, landscaping, restaurants and hotel/motel occupations. If new business and industry is recruited, the chance that many of the new positions will be taken by individuals living outside the area who will commute in and drive their paychecks home is extremely high, given the communities' overall low skill levels.

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What is critically needed is improvements in the skill levels of existing employees and internal improvements and expansion of local business and industry, coupled with the development of local entrepreneurial opportunities……………………


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