(5.13.16) Clayton County Zeroes in on Industries for Growth

(Atlanta Business Chronicle, May 13, 2016)

Building upon inherent strengths in areas such as location, transportation infrastructure, and natural resources, Clayton County has targeted several industries for special attention in its economic development efforts.

The effort is based largely upon a strategic economic development plan prepared for the county in 2013 by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the university’s business outreach organization. The targeted industries are manufacturing; logistics and distribution; bio/life sciences; and health-care services, according to Courtney Pogue, director of the Clayton County Office of Economic Development & Film.

With a historically strong manufacturing presence over the years and the upturn in the overall economy, Clayton is experiencing a resurgence in manufacturing, according to Pogue. “Manufacturing and processing companies that have huge water requirements are choosing Clayton County due to our abundant water supply, with more than 40 million gallons per day of excess capacity available via the Clayton County Water Authority.”

A plentiful and reliable supply of fresh water was one of the reasons that theCastellini Group of Companies, one of the largest fresh produce distributors in the United States, chose a Clayton County location in 2014 for a large-scale fresh-cut fruits and vegetables processing and produce distribution center, a $52 million project creating some 300 jobs, according to Pogue.

World-class infrastructure

Clayton County’s transportation infrastructure — an array of resources that includes Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, four interstate highways (I-675, I-75, I-85, and I-285) and two Class I railroads (CSX and Norfolk Southern) — make it very attractive to all types of businesses, especially those that are logistics- and distribution-oriented.

And that already impressive transportation infrastructure has gotten a shot in the arm with the expansion of MARTA bus service here, funded by a 1 percent sales tax overwhelmingly approved by county voters in 2014.

More than 10 bus lines are fully operational, said Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, whose 2012 election campaign was focused on the issue of bringing public transit back to the county.

Ridership is steadily increasing, according to Turner, with the heaviest levels in the northwest corridor of the county leading to Hartsfield-Jackson.

“We’ve had to add extra buses to that route, because it got to the point that it was standing-room only at several points during the day,” he said.

Other resources

Pogue said Clayton County has access to a labor market area of over 1.1 million people. This ample supply of labor is augmented by a variety of workforce training and support programs, including those offered by Atlanta CareerRise,Atlanta Tech, Clayton County Public Schools(with its Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, “CTAE” program) and Clayton State University, whoseCenter for Supply Chain Management is described by Pogue as “one of the premier supply chain and logistics program in the State of Georgia.”

Clayton County is the only county in the core metro Atlanta area designated as “Tier 1” by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, enabling businesses in certain industries to get maximum tax credits for job-creating projects.

The combination of Clayton attributes has had a positive impact on economic development, with commercial real estate sources reporting that activity by targeted industries and others has been steadily picking up in the county.

steveIndeed, while Clayton County and vicinity was slower to bounce back from the Great Recession than most Atlanta-area submarkets, “It is now in the middle of full-throated recovery,” said Steve Berman, founder of Norcross-based OA Development, a commercial real estate owner/developer/manager/broker. OA Development’s Clayton County holdings include Royal Phoenix Business Center, a 79,867-square-foot business park near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The readily-available workforce is one factor in this rebound, but it’s MARTA bus service that has provided biggest boost to the commercial leasing market in Clayton County, he said.

“Leases are coming to the area because of MARTA. That is one investment that is already getting a nice return,” said Berman, who is also chairman of theAirport South Commercial Improvement District(CID), located in the northwest portion of Clayton County and bordering the airport.

Recent Clayton County deals include those by business processing and information technology outsourcing services provider VXI Global Solutions, with a 27,556-square-foot call-center lease at Royal Phoenix Business Center, a move creating some 570 new jobs; and medical transport companyLogistiCare, with a 45,000-square-foot lease nearby at Ackerman & Cos.Phoenix Office Park, a deal creating 200 jobs.

“Business-friendly and straightforward”

E-commerce and distribution-space users are the major business types checking out space at Gillem Logistics Center, according to David Welch, a partner in Robinson Weeks Partners, which in turn is a partner with Greenwich, Conn.-based Starwood Capital Group as Forest Park Development Partners LLC, the master developer of Gillem Logistics Center.

Located about 4.5 miles east of Hartsfield-Jackson, the former Fort Gillem Army Base is a 1,168-acre master-planned park designed to accommodate more than 8 million square feet of industrial space, along with 500,000 square feet of mixed-use buildings.

An 850,000-square-foot speculative industrial building is slated for completion here in late summer.

“We’ve proposed on more than 4 million square feet-worth of RFPs in the past 45 days,” Welch said, “with about 50 percent of those for e-commerce users, and the other half regional distribution centers.”

Proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson and the interstate highway network are the main draws for distribution-space users here, according to Welch. The major drivers for e-commerce users, meanwhile, are nearby FedEx and UPS hubs.

The new building at Gillem Logistics Center comes on the heels of the completion late last year of a 1.3 million-square-foot regional distribution center for The Kroger Co. Located on a 253-acre site in the park, the facility is now operational, said Welch.

Clayton County stands out among its metro-area peers as a business-friendly locale, he added.

“The county and particularly the city of Forest Park are very business-friendly and straightforward to deal with, and they are particularly helpful in shepherding projects through permitting processes if necessary,” Welch said.

Clayton County economic development positives

  1. Transportation Infrastructure– Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; interstate highways 75, 85, 285, and 675; CSX and Norfolk-Southern railroads; and MARTA bus service.
  2. Natural Resources– Abundant water supply, with more than 40 million gallons per day of excess capacity available via the Clayton County Water Authority
  3. Incentive programs– Include being the only “Tier 1” county in core metro Atlanta region, enabling maximum state job tax credits for selected industries; job tax credits for businesses locating in state of Georgia Opportunity Zone directly east of Hartsfield-Jackson; “one-stop shopping” for zoning, permitting, and business licenses.
  4. Human resources– Access to a labor market area of over 1.1 million people; a variety of regional and local workforce training and support programs, including the Clayton County Public Schools Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) and Clayton State University’s Center for Supply Chain Management programs.

Source: Clayton County Office of Economic Development & Film