In recent years, Forsyth County, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and the Forsyth County Development Authority have had a big interest in bringing industry to the county.
At a development authority meeting on Thursday morning, members heard updates to a number of projects in various states across the county.
One of the most discussed recent projects has been Dexter Companies’ planned Shiloh Technology Center, a new industrial business park planned for development on Shiloh Road in the Meadows Industrial Park. The project will break ground on Monday, July 1.
“These will be the only vacant buildings in the corridor that are less than 20 years old,” said Blake Dexter, with the company.
In January, commissioners approved a sketch plat for the development, which will be made up of three buildings totaling 400,000 square feet on about 51.5 acres. Buildings 1 and 2 will total 145,600 and 136,000 square feet, respectively. A pad-ready site for a third building totaling 123,200 square feet will be built out within three years.
Dexter said on Tuesday one of the buildings had already been completely leased and it was likely the project would be built as just one phase instead of two.
“I think even the first two buildings having that kind of footage coming out of the ground at one time has never happened,” said Robert Long, the chamber’s vice president of economic development. “You throw in that third building and that definitely has not happened, probably on the entire 400 corridor.”
The buildings will be used for either a single or multiple tenants for distribution, light manufacturing and assembly and office space. The development is projected to bring 800-1,000 jobs to Forsyth County, “with an anticipated real property investment exceeding $35 million,” and will be built across from the upcoming Halcyon Forsyth mixed-use project.
At a recent work session, Forsyth County Commissioners approved by a 3-1 vote, with District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper opposed and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills absent, to authorize an incentive offer for Sports Warehouse, a California-based company that brought its east coast hub to Forsyth County in 2017.
If approved by commissioners at a future meeting, which is required as it did not receive unanimous support from commissioners, an existing agreement for revenue bonds will be increased to $24 million from $20 million and involve extending the terms of the deal by two years.
Commissioners had some issues with the proposal during their meeting, and at the development authority meeting, David Seago, the authority’s chairman, said the discussion showed some issues with the current process.
Seago said those issues included the length of the process and “accountability” in the process.
“How do you evaluate jobs? How do you evaluate the salaries? How do you evaluate the capital expenditure? How do you look at the time frame to see what kind of company it is?” he said. “There are a lot of things with the economic development ordinance that we feel like we can add some meat to how we operate.”
County Manager Eric Johnson said his issue with the agreement was restarting the clock, which he called “double dipping.”
“When I saw that for the first time in April, for me, that was not something that I would want to support,” he said. “It may be that what it took is to have enough value to them that you had to give them another two years on their initial $16 million investment, but for me, to start the clock over again under inducements that had already been offered was very unusual.”
Johnson also discussed looking at the Forsyth County Board of Education as a partner for economic development. He said school taxes are “74 percent” of what a business would pay in local taxes, and favored agreements for a shorter duration but that also include school tax abatements.
Plans are underway to revamp Digital Ignition, a technology and startup incubator, and the chamber will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony with an address by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan on Thursday, June 27.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Joanne Sanders, president of EWISE Communications, said Digital Ignition was drawing entrepreneurs to the site, which put companies on a fast track for success.
“What’s amazing is because of the caliber of the business acumen these people have, the businesses that they’re starting are absolutely incredible,” she said.
Sanders said some businesses formed in the incubator have grown to other sites in the county, bringing jobs with them.
“Most companies there are hiring, some faster than others,” she said. “We have some companies that are hiring 50-60 employees this year and about 200 next year. Others are hiring 10-25 people. Now that we’ve added all these services, it’s really operating as a launching pad for businesses in Forsyth.”
Businesses being targeted at the facility include blockchain, artificial intelligence and internet of things technology.
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