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Fast-growing, cash-strapped

 June 26, 2007

Leesburg  --     Lee County's commercial growth hasn't kept up with it's residential growth, but leaders are working to change that. The Oakland Plantation industrial development could eventually add $86 million a year to Lee County's tax base.

Now, the county is taking steps to attract more retail development.   A development expert told leaders that it will take incentives, infrastructure improvements, and a regional effort to bring in large retail chains. 

Amy Wiard moved Amelia's Market to the Lee County side of Ledo Road five months ago. Business is good. "It has been very, very busy almost overwhelmingly busy and I think with all the new businesses opening up along Ledo Road we look to be busier," siad Amelia's Market Owner Amy Wiard.

That's what Lee County leaders want, more retail along corridors like Ledo Road, but getting retailers here, will take work, and while Lee County has one of the state's 15 highest incomes per household, it's not enough, they need better infrastructure.

"Become a little more familiar with how the retail industry works, attend some trade shows, help evaluate and cultivate retail sites that would be a benefit to retailers and a lot of that is due to where infrastructure is, water and sewer," said GEMC Retail Commercial Development Manager Jim O'Bryan. 

They also need regional help. "Obviously they need to work off the synergies of their regional partner which is Dougherty County.  They're always going to be there you have to make the most of it," said O'Bryan. 

O'Bryan says both counties should play off existing retail including Wal-Mart and the new Kohl's, both have created some interest.  

"There are a number of national entities, that don't have a presence on this side of the state, if you will and Dougherty County and I have both been trying to attract them," said Lee Co. Chamber of Commerce Director Winston Oxford.

"I'm all the time calling looking to see what the new development is going down the street so even if it is competition it's beneficial to me also," said Wiard.

Already three new distribution centers are considering building in the Oakland Meadows Industrial Park, an announcement for one could come next week and while it won't mean many jobs it will bring tax revenue, what Lee County's desperatly tried to attract. 

An announcement on that new distribution center is expected next week and could bring the county as much as 175 thousand dollars in tax revenue.  The chamber said they've cut the ribbon on 12 new businesses so far this year.

When it comes to the numbers retailers look for, south Georgia often lags behind much of the state for what might entice a retailer. Retailers may consider a county's job make-up or the average age of a community in deciding where to locate.

 On average in Georgia, construction makes up 5% of a community's jobs,  manufacturing 12%, government 16%.

In Lee County, construction jobs make up 19% of the job base and manufacturing makes up only 4%.

That shows the county's industrial recruitment may be down and could discourage retailers. Retailers often pick communities where there is a younger population like college students or older adults with more disposable income.

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