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Which Came First–The Chicken or Economic Development?

November 16, 2016
This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
On January 7, 2015, the city of Louisville received an offer it could have refused. An unnamed company considered creating new jobs in the area if—and it was a big “if”—the city could provide a 150,000-square-foot building with a combined water and sewer capacity of 1.6 million gallons per day. One more detail: the company wanted the facility to be operational by December 17, 2015.
 
City officials believed this was an unrealistic deadline under any circumstances. But, as a rural community in need of growth, Louisville knows all about challenges. In 2012, more than 200 jobs disappeared when Thermo King, the city’s largest employer at the time, relocated to Nebraska. In 2014, the local unemployment rate was 13.8 percent, three points above the statewide average. At the same time, county and city officials made sure that they were ready when investors—Coastal Processing in this case—came calling. There were several sites throughout Jefferson County that almost met their requirements. One plant that stood out happened to be near Louisville.
 
Dormant since 1999, the Forstmann textile mill was large enough to accommodate chicken processing operations. It also featured water and sewer capacity in excess of 3 million gallons per day—enough to meet industrial demands and the needs of the city. So much for the good news. The bad news was that Louisville would have to acquire the property from a private owner and spend an initially projected $20 million or more on upgrades. These included permitting and contracting, a watershed assessment, new equipment and building a sewer line from the city to the site. Worst of all, the entire project was expected to take up to three years. The prevailing sentiment was that this could not be done.
 
But, city and county officials thought otherwise and got to work. In July 2015, the city and county’s combined resources allowed for the purchase of the property and turned the Forstman water and sewer treatment plant into a municipal facility. Other pieces fell into place, resulting in the total cost being reduced to $10 million from the projected $20 million. It only took four months to arrange funding from local banks, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and USDA Rural Development. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued permits within the same timeframe. Last but not least, all contractors, beginning with the engineering firm G. Ben Turnipseed, met their deadlines.
 
The result of this unique cooperation between various levels of government and between the public and private sector is more than a physical plant. New jobs broaden the tax base and increase city revenue. Louisville’s updated sewer and water system is a benefit to the environment. Looking into the future, the additional industrial capacity can create more widespread economic growth.

Louisville Mayor Larry Morgan is optimistic, “With all these positive effects about to take place, that’s going to open an opportunity for other people to realize this small, rural Jefferson County is making an effort to improve,” he said. “With this project and all it brings to the city, we’re actually going to have something to sell and try to recruit another plant to come in and employ some more people.”
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