Drivers of Success in Liberty County
28 Feb, 2006By: Rhonda Proctor
Vision, Expansion and Advocacy
When Ronald E. Tolley, CEO of the Liberty County Development Authority (LCDA), met with representatives from the Gift Wrap company in 1995, he and his team worked tirelessly to help the company’s executives select a site for the United States’ oldest maker of Christmas gift wrap, ribbons and stationery. The goal of the company was to move its space constrained plant from headquarters in Massachusetts, and consolidate plant operations on one centralized manufacturing campus. A mere six months later Gift Wrap made the decision to move its operation to the warm, friendly and historic Liberty County, Georgia, home to the Midway Industrial Park. Doubling and finishing out the LCDA’s 50,000 square foot shell building, Gift Wrap’s plant was completed in 1996.
But that’s just one example of how the vision and success of a company can spur sound economic development, foster effective planning strategies and advance advocacy for all concerned. Such has been the case time and again with companies who have chosen to locate and expand their manufacturing operation in Liberty County’s, Midway Industrial Park and the new Tradeport Business Center, located in Midway, Georgia.
Gift Wrap was a company grounded in the tradition of an American entrepreneurial spirit. Established in 1903, it had grown from a leather postcard and ribbon/gift wrap producer to a parachute manufacturer during WWII and a metallic polyester textile producer for the Apollo space program in the late 1960s. With continued growth outside the United States, the company became International Greetings in 1989 and now concentrates production on greeting cards, gift wrap, gift tags and related items, primarily for the Christmas season.
Clearly International Greetings is a company with a vision and tradition of expansion. With its history, Ron Tolley had a hunch that International Greetings would continue to expand, and wanted to be certain that available space, incentives and assistance for the company, would find a welcome home in Liberty County, Georgia.
“The vision and success of International Greetings - as well as the successes of some of the other companies that call Liberty County home - has given the LCDA the confidence to aggressively move forward with our largest and most attractive new development, the Tradeport Business Center,” says Tolley.
While the vision of the company is vital to its successful expansion strategies, perhaps equally important is the planning that enables a company to turn its vision into reality.
As with many manufacturers, the initial planning process for International Greetings was critical. After a visit to Massachusetts to tour their plant, the LCDA saw the inefficiencies of their multi-level layout and limited elevator access which created problems during their primary shipping period - two to three months before Christmas season.
“When Gift Wrap executives contacted us initially,” says Tolley, “they were looking for a50,000 square foot building that could be easily expanded into 100,000 square feet. Based upon what we had seen in the plant visit, our Midway Business Park was an ideal fit for them.” The company has expanded its operation three times from the initial 100,000 square foot facility to its current 483,000 square foot, 24 acre manufacturing campus, employing 182 employees, not including the 100 temporary workers added during peak season. Says International Greetings’ executive vice president, Richard Eckman, “The company is doing very well, and is growing in a fast-paced environment. The friendly atmosphere and good, solid employees here who are hard-working and dedicated is a good environment for business.”
Similarly boat manufacturer Luhrs Mainship located its plant in the Midway Industrial Park in 1999, with a 68,000 square foot facility. Within three years, Mainship had already undertaken one expansion, tripled its product lines, and increased its employment from 25 to 145.The ability to recruit productive employees along with the cooperation of the LCDA convinced Mainship to acquire additional acreage for growth, bringing its total available acres to more than 23. Explains Tolley, “We’ve catered really well to the needs of companies with expanding operations.”
Ernie D’Alto, Production Manager at Mainship, echoes Tolley’s claim, “Whether it is assistance with building permits, employee recognition events, tax questions or whatever, we know that help from the Liberty County Development Authority is only a phone call away. They worked hard to get us here, and they keep working hard to help us expand.”
It takes more than careful planning to help companies achieve their relocation or expansion goals –it takes a advocacy and collaboration to ensure success.
“Liberty County offers all of the typical development advantages such as lower land and labor costs, a quality labor pool, area universities and technical colleges and community leaders who are eager to collaborate. But one factor that makes Liberty County successful is experience,” says Tolley who notes that he’s been developing successful business parks in the region for the past 35 years. “We believe in building partnerships with all levels of government that foster a long-term commitment to economic development in our county,” adds Tolley. “Our proven success encouraged EDA, HUD, EPA, the State of Georgia, and our county to invest almost $10,000,000 in planning and infrastructure for our newest industrial park near I-95 – the Tradeport Business Center. Tire Rack’s DC (distribution center) is already open and a Target DC with 1,600,000 sq. ft. and 500+ jobs will be opening in 2007 in the new park.”
Tolley recognizes what it takes for companies to make these mission critical site selection decisions, “Whether we’re working with a site selection consultant or a company directly, we have to be responsive, work within their time frame and do everything possible to meet their specific requirements, and if we can get a company here to speak with other plant managers – we know we can close the deal. Plant managers do a terrific job of selling Liberty County, first hand – and there’s nothing better than that kind of testimonial.”