Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 13

diversify with companies such as Moller Tech and Hailo. Plentiful and relatively inexpensive land, as well as a willing workforce, are two incentives for companies looking for a home. But that's only the beginning of a growth strategy. "Everyone talks about the need to recruit companies, but what you really do is keep from getting eliminated, because companies have an idea of what they want," Lyon said. "They may go to the State of Georgia and say, 'OK, I'm looking for a place that has a four-lane highway and a building of a certain size next to a railroad track.' Of course, all a county's assets are registered with the state, all of your buildings and all of your land." So, the goal is to have Elbert County registered with as many desirable traits as it can have, keeping the county an option for as many potential employers as possible. "We've got open land here that's fairly inexpensive, particularly compared to around Atlanta," Lyon said. "One of the disadvantages we've had is that we don't have a four-lane." However, Highway 72 is being widened, creating better access between the county and employers such as Caterpillar near Athens. And companies evaluate every aspect of a community, including success of the school system. While much information about a county is coordinated through state databases, a company can check details such as high school graduation rates with a simple website search. A business looking for a new site might eliminate a county from consideration for that alone, and the county would never know, Lyon said. "Our high schools are beginning to increase their graduation rates," he said. "All of those types of things play into it, and that's why we get together with the schools and with the cities. We're trying to stand out." Diversifying for the Future Infrastructure makes many of the dreams for a better future in Elbert County possible, and the local leaders have found creative ways to strengthen the economic foundation. Elbert County Manager Bob Thomas has been on the job for the past 10 years, putting to work the master's degree in city planning he earned from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Like Lyon, he also brought business experience. He formerly owned a poultry wholesale company, which polished his management skills. "A truckload of poultry, at the time, was in the $50,000 or $60,000 range," he said. "It adds up to a lot of money and you have to do everything, including setting up your own trucking. You have to wear many hats and it translated over well to this job." Thomas also served for four years on the Elbert County Board of Education, including the last two as chairman. Now, he puts all of that experience to use, maintaining the county's commitment to financial pragmatism. "We are a pay-as-you-go type county, and we have no debt to speak of," he said. "We have been able to build up a little bit of a reserve, so we can at least borrow from ourselves instead of going to the bank." The plan, however, was about more than simply cutting. Instead, the county made a series of moves to set the stage for additional growth. Rail, they hope, will be a key for the community about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Savannah. "We are thrilled that the Savannah port is being widened and being made deeper, because there's a lot of freight moving in and out of that port," Thomas said. "If we can get set up with rail, we feel we will have a competitive advantage in moving some of that freight in and out of this area." The plan is to leverage the existing shortline Hartwell Railroad system in Elbert County. Short-line rail acts as lower-volume routes to move freight within a specific region or to serve as feeders for larger, national lines. In 2012, Elbert County began negotiating with state officials-State Sen. Frank Ginn and State Rep. Tom McCall were key supporters-to secure a $25 million grant for the Elbert County Development Authority to connect the existing short-line system to Class I lines of both Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads. "There are not many places in the state of Georgia that has that, so we feel like that rail connection will give us somewhat of an advantage for moving freight," Thomas said. There is also an expectation for the freight shipments leaving Savannah to nearly double during the next four to five years, Thomas said. Recently, county officials made a presentation to state officials for the county to become an inland port. Rather than ship freight from Savannah by truck, the state plans to identify a half-dozen inland ports. Trains will move freight from the coast to one of the inland ports, where it will then be loaded onto trucks that will travel to the final destinations. The goal is to limit truck traffic on Georgia interstate roadways and through Atlanta. Now that Elbert County has access to two of the largest rail systems in the nation, the location makes sense for one of the inland ports, Thomas said. "That's one of the reasons we're trying to make that connection; we feel we have a little advantage there." Leveraging its existing rail line is only one example of Elbert County finding every possible advantage, even when it faces a daunting challenge. SUMMER 2016 www.accg.org 13 http://www.accg.org/

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia County Government - Summer 2016

President’s Message
Director’s Desk
Cover Story: Growth and Opportunity in Elbert County
Georgia Counties Get Results in ACCG’s Policy Areas
Insights from Georgia’s Congressman Lynn Westmoreland
Making Strides for Healthy Communities
Preparing for the Zika Virus in Georgia
Georgia Public Libraries Shine
Counties Emerge into the Digital Age
News & Notes
Index of Advertisers
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - cover1
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - cover2
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 3
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 4
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 5
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 6
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 7
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - President’s Message
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Director’s Desk
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Cover Story: Growth and Opportunity in Elbert County
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 11
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 12
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 13
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 14
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 15
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Georgia Counties Get Results in ACCG’s Policy Areas
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 17
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 18
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 19
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Insights from Georgia’s Congressman Lynn Westmoreland
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 21
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Making Strides for Healthy Communities
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 23
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 24
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 25
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Preparing for the Zika Virus in Georgia
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 27
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Georgia Public Libraries Shine
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 29
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 30
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 31
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Counties Emerge into the Digital Age
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 33
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 34
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 35
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - 36
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - News & Notes
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - Index of Advertisers
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - cover3
Georgia County Government - Summer 2016 - cover4
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