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Authority members tout record over last decade

Grady’s jobless
rate remains one
of lowest in region
Members of the Grady County Joint Development Authority paused Tuesday to reflect on the accomplishments of the authority over the last decade.
The most recent unemployment figures for the southwest Georgia region indicate the jobless rate for Grady County is the second lowest in the region at 7.2 percent.
Grady County is outperforming Thomas, 7.6 percent, and Decatur, 10.8 percent, as well as Mitchell, 8.5 percent.
The most recent jobless numbers for February were released last week.
“About 80 percent of the people in Grady County don’t know how well we are doing. It is good to know just how well we are doing,” JDA member Chuck Thomas said Tuesday.
According to Thomas, only 15 percent of Georgia’s counties have lower unemployment rates, and none is a county that the JDA competes with for jobs.
“All of the ones doing better are rich, north Georgia counties,” Thomas said.
He said critics who say the community and the JDA need to do more to be like Thomas and Decatur counties would result in the county seeing an increase its unemployment rate.
The veteran authority member also credited the leadership of longtime Chairman Charles M. Stafford.
Chairman Stafford rejected the praise and said the authority’s success is the result of the board working together as a team.
“Noone is in it for themselves. Everyone here does what they do for the community,” Chairman Stafford said.
Thomas agreed, but noted the authority would not be as effective without good leadership.
Thomas also said the most negative project the authority has had in the last decade was the Higdon Furniture Company project, but he noted the JDA has moved forward and is renting the former furniture manufacturing plant to the tune of $10,000 per month and, in the process, assisted a major county employer in expanding to the former Higdon plant.
The JDA is currently negotiating a settlement of back rent owed to the authority by Joseph W. Higdon, according to authority officials.
“We took some lemons and made lemonade,” Thomas said of the Higdon project.
During the authority’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday, JDA Executive Director Chadd Mathis reported that Woodhaven is currently employing 320 workers at its operations in Grady County.
According to Chairman Stafford, since 2001, the JDA has received grants and government funding totaling $4.4 million and private investment during that period was $34 million. That is in addition to a $1.5 million revolving loan fund the authority has been successful in creating. Those funds are available to loan employers with the firms paying the fund back plus low interest.
While other Georgia communities have been successful in attracting “fluffy” projects, Thomas said attracting firms like Seminole Marine, Woodhaven, Performance Food Group and Turner’s Furniture over the last decade has dramatically impacted the local economy.
“We are the poster child for One Georgia and economic development in rural Georgia,” Thomas said.
In other business Tuesday, the authority:
Heard a financial report from Chairman Stafford. For the three months ending March 31, the authority had positive cash flow of $39,976.
Heard an update from JDA Executive Director Mathis on a recent meeting with state economic development project managers in Moultrie. Mathis pitched the project managers on Grady County’s attempt to attract a syrup manufacturer back to the county. “Hopefully, they will put us on the radar,” Mathis said.
Learned that the fire pump and sprinkler system at the former Higdon Furniture Company plant on Wight Road has been completed and is operating properly.
Heard an update on planned renovations of the chamber offices to begin later this month. Mathis said temporary office space at Realty Mart on U.S. 84 East has been offered for the chamber and JDA staff while the ceilings and flooring of the chamber building are torn out and replaced. Mathis said the May meeting of the authority may be canceled or moved to another location.

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