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Economic Development

Nov. 21 – SEDA updates City Council on Economic Development with Pitch for Continued Support of FilmSavannah office.

Category: Economic Development

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

November 21, 2017 - Trip Tollison (pictured), president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, was the featured speaker at today’s Savannah City Council Work Session, beginning with a video presentation featuring Gulfstream, SCAD, Savannah State University, Georgia Southern University, and the growth of the Georgia Ports Authority. “Savannah is transaction ready,” was a theme of the video, aided by Georgia’s QuickStart program that helps to prepare the workforce required by current and future companies.

“We need a very technically advanced workforce,” stated a spokesman with Mitsubishi Power Systems in the video, adding that the company has had good success recruiting from former military personnel in the area.  

The “Killerman” movie, which began filming in Savannah in October, was finishing its last day of production just outside the City Hall during the session.  “What you hear is the sound of money being spent,” joked Tollison, as the Council could hear the noise.  The City has made a three-year commitment of $206,000 annually from the Operating Budget to support the FilmSavannah office, managed now by SEDA, as well as $100,000 per year from Chatham County.  However, in 2017, the City’s figure was apparently cut due to budget issues, Tollison said, “and we understand that,” but said SEDA is hoping the full $206,000 will be funded in the 2018 budget the Council will begin to consider next week.

Tollison explained that several months ago, SEDA met with the city’s management staff to work together in a number of areas, working "to strike agreements and work out compromises.” He highlighted a joint effort for needed roads for the ports, as an example. “The investments this City has made in water and sewer is fantastic, because we have large capacity here,” said Tollison, that is helping to attract industry.

There has been $431 million in investment in Savannah in 2017, including announcements of new companies locating here, as well as the expansions of existing companies, “with maybe two more before the end of the year,” Tollison said. 

Over the past five years, the annual average of private investment has been $212 million, so 2017 is far surpassing that average.  

Explaining the work of SEDA, he explained that in 2017 there have been 56 prospect visits that SEDA has hosted, and added,  “70% of the all the work we do is site visits,” to current companies, “to help them anyway we can.”

The World Trade Center Savannah Foreign Trade Zone’s revenues are running 108% of what had been budgeted.  Two foreign trade inbound delegations were hosted this year by WTCSavannah, including those here for business and cultural visits.

In an update on SEDA’s ‘Savannah Manufacturing Center,’ now being developed, Tollison stated that it is a 719 acre tract with 433 of upland acreage that can be subdivided into  24 to 192 individual parcels, depending on the needs of an interested company.  SEDA will spend approx. $20 million to get the tract ‘PAD’ ready.  A temporary road is now being constructed, and all Corps of Engineers’ requirements should be completed by the end of 2018, he added, stating, “This the next ‘Crossroads’ for Savannah.” 

SEDA will hold its annual meeting on January 10, 2018, and provide more information on the six ‘pillars’ of business here that SEDA focuses on.

Regarding the FilmSavannah office,“we still have a long ways to go,’ in upside opportunity, Tollison stated. It is now projected that there will be $2.7 billion in direct spend in Georgia in 2017, of which Savannah is gaining a growing portion, and is “on track to meet if not surpass what we did last year,” he said.  “We see a lot of films paying $27 an hour, with crews working 14 hours a day,” he stated.   

But, “We need sound stage development.  Right now, we’re very limited on that, which is limiting activities,” he made clear.

Alderman Julian Miller asked what the City could do to help with the soundstage issue? “Just to be very responsive, to get water and sewer there right away, to expedite fiber optics,” responded Tollison. Regarding the rejected plan for a soundstage on the fairgrounds that the City now owns, Tollison said, “Our job is not to go tell the City what to do with their property… we have some ideas that maybe we can do on property that SEDA owns, maybe a private-public partnership with the company that wants to come in,” he said.

“Atlanta is full; they can’t do any more movies there. They’re dying,” he explained.  Movie companies need at least a 20,000 sq. ft. property that is climate controlled, with office space, he stated. 

Alderman Shabazz asked if there was “any other conversation that is going on between SEDA and the interested parties regarding the fairground,” that she did not know about?  “They wanted to buy the property, but they didn’t want to pay what we thought it was worth,” said Alderman Miller, and Tollison said that there wasn’t.

Regarding the FilmSavannah office, Alderman Bill Durrence pointed out, “we need to take a hard look at how we manage permits,” referring to when filming is going on at the same time as other events in the City, impacting residents. And, it was acknowledged that there was insufficient planning when ‘American Idol’ was in Savannah recently, that resulted in roads being closed without notification to residents and businesses.

The I-16 MegaSite Update

Alderman Brian Foster pointed out that manufacturing jobs are very important long term for the community, and asked Tollison for an update on the State of Georgia’s mega-site that is empty except for Mitusishi Power Systems.  “We have lost more than one smaller manufacturer because the State will not allow them on the mega-side,” Tollison responded.

The State’s new ‘Advanced Manufacturing Training Center’ that QuickStart is planning at the corner of I-16/I-95 will be a help, he added.  “Georgia is building a 60,000 to 70,000 sq ft of high tech training for manufacturing. And, they’re building it so that we can add on to it there,” if there are demands for future companies looking at the area.

“We have certain areas of focus that make sense for the community. Obviously, aerospace is number one,” explained Tollison.  “We are in the perfect spot to handle Tier 1 suppliers for aerospace manufacturing now going on in the Southeast,” listing Gulfstream, but also all of the plants in the Charleston and Alabama areas. “While, that hasn’t happened yet,” he said, SEDA is now in private discussions with three possible companies.

And, he explained, “There are only 250 acres on the mega-site that are pad ready, and often companies are looking for 500 to 700 acres of pad ready space.  And, manufacturers often “want a 360 degree footprint for their distribution footprint” … and because Savannah is on the coast, “we don’t have that.” 

Later today SEDA will be announcing a new partnership with SCAD, and a new partnership with Georgia Tech. 

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