As part of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Eggs and Issues breakfast, chamber members heard the details of how Bartow County came out on top in Shaw’s site elimination process. Cartersville-Bartow County Economic Development Executive Director Melinda Lemmon was the headlining speaker during the Thursday morning discussion, and she explained how much secrecy was involved with process, code named Project Rectangle.
“The state had a project manager and utility manager assigned to this project and we knew [it] via code name, and they switch up the code names from time to time just to keep us guessing,” Lemmon said. “You all think I keep secrets, but the reality is I don’t know as much as you think I do.”
The process began in March, with an unnamed company requesting site proposals for a $35 to $45 million investment that would create 200 jobs. Requirements included 60 to 150 acres for a 500,000-square-foot building, which would expand in phases.
Each applicant could submit four sites, Lemmon said. Bartow County submitted the Adairsville site on Ga. Highway 140, the Highland 75 industrial park, Anheuser-Bush land across from Highland 75 and property on Hamilton Crossing Road.
Lemmon said the process was one of site elimination, where Shaw narrowed down the submitted sites with three main rounds of questions. The first involved education. The company wanted to know how many students took the SAT, the ACT and how many graduated, among other information. Lemmon thanked the Bartow County School Board, Superintendent John Harper and the school system’s staff for their assistance.
The second round of questioning involved site specifications, such as topography. The third round involved utilities. Lemmon took a moment to thank Adairsville City Manager Pat Crook for her help in handling the utility questions, saying she “earned a T-shirt” for her work.
As the rounds of questions went on, Bartow County was left with only the Adairsville site still in the contest. However, the state was not involved until it was the only site left in Georgia.
“The state won’t step in and play favorites among its Georgia communities, so at the point where one Georgia community is selected then the governor and his team will step in and look at any discretionary assistance they might be able to provide,” Lemmon said.
Throughout most of the process Lemmon said she did not know what company was behind Project Rectangle. She only found out during a cellphone conversation while she was parked in her driveway.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m so glad they’re a happy existing industry.’ Because all of the things that we had been saying about the quality of the community and the workforce, they’re our biggest testimony for that. So I’m so grateful they’re an existing industry,” she said.
The Shaw project has now grown to an approximate $85 million investment with a 600,000- to 700,000-square-foot facility on 117 acres. The number of jobs created went up as well — 500 over five years.
In addition to the incentives the state has entitled to Shaw with legislated tax breaks, the company is also receiving a tax abatement from Bartow County. Lemmon would not provide specifics, but the abatement is structured over 15 years. However, the yearly increases are not equally distributed over those 15 years. Instead Shaw requested varying amounts for each year to help them reach profitability at the new plant as soon as possible. Lemmon stressed the abatement will still total the same amount.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor said during the talk the county schools gave up approximately $170,000 of revenue in order to bring Shaw to Adairsville. Lemmon later said the various abatements would not harm the school system, as its needs were taken into consideration while creating the tax break package. She also believed sales tax from construction materials, and other related taxes, would help offset the loss of future revenue.
The school board’s willingness to give up future funds was an example of what Lemmon called one of Bartow County’s greatest assets: unity.
“Each of the community development initiatives that we take on as a team, Team Bartow, are paying off. We’ve got to prepare a place for the kinds of companies that we want to go after and the jobs we want to create. That’s paying off,” she said. “I can’t stress enough the importance of unity. This unity in the community, as [Joe Frank Harris Jr.] says. That true team effort, I think, is a huge, huge advantage for Bartow County. ... What a blessing to be in a community where we can all agree: quality jobs is what we’re after and we each do our part to go after that.”
The next Eggs and Issues breakfast talk will be held Oct. 3 at the Adairsville Inn. Adena Harper said the chamber of commerce is still looking for a sponsor. Members interested in being a sponsor may contact the chamber at 770-382-1466.