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Group Celebrates Half Century of Bringing Jobs to Georgia

Walter Jones
Morris News Service

July 12, 2013ATLANTA - Georgia's economy and employment base has improved a lot in the half century since the state's job recruiters decided to start working together. 
In the years immediately after World War II, the state could still be described as struggling in many ways from the ravages of the Civil War. It was far behind the rest of the country in terms of income, employment and business development. 
The railroads, utilities and major cities were individually trying to lure factories, but their effectiveness was blunted by lack of coordination or outright, cutthroat competition, according to Mike Pennington, executive director of the Georgia Economic Developers Association. 
"A few of them got to talking and said, 'Why don't we team up?'" he said. 
For years it amounted to a handful of men at informal lunches. In 1963, they incorporated the Georgia Industrial Developers Association. 
The organization has grown over the following 50 years, including absorbing 19 other similar trade groups, to become one of the premier job-recruitment outfits in the nation. 
"Everyone everywhere always said Georgia had the best association," said Walter Sprouse, executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County and a former board member of the national economic-developers association. 
Professional training, networking and regional cooperation are the organization's hallmarks, observers say, because they focused efforts away from destructive competition between communities - which often included so much badmouthing that industrial prospects avoided the state all together. 
"We're trying to help that process," Pennington said. "The CEO in Munich doesn't care what county you're in. We tell people to leave high school rivalries and such behind and work together." 
A modern success story the association points to is recruitment of the 1,400-job Caterpillar plant on the boundary between Oconee and Clarke counties. 
Among the early successes on the association's online timeline are recruitment of Augusta Newsprint, Proctor & Gamble's Augusta plant and Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah. 
While the organization no longer lobbies, it does take some credit for creation of the QuickStart training programs at the state's technical colleges, Freeport tax exemption for business inventories and tax allocation districts which allow businesses to voluntarily form development projects. 
In recent years, the association has included attention to helping existing industries and homegrown enterprises export or sell online because some communities prefer not to grow by attracting large manufacturers. That's why it changed its name to Economic Developers from Industrial Developers. 
"You don't have to have a smokestack next to your business nowadays," Pennington said. "You can have industry and still be 'Mayberry.'" 
The association has the credibility to gain the ear of the state's top officials as well as each community's leaders, Spouse said. And, as a result, it's made a mark felt by every Georgian. 
"Your local economic developer has the responsibility to be the one to be proactive to create jobs," he said. "Everyone in the country says we need more jobs. ... Here's the person who's going to be doing this in your community." 
Follow Walter Jones on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or reach him at walter.jones@morris.com and (404) 589-8424.


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