A conversation with.Kenneth C. Stewart, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Economic Development
"Our focus is on the industries that provide some economic sustainability to our state; sectors that are strong now and have the capability to use our natural resources and our work force to increase that strength. "
A. Kia Motors Corporation announced a new automotive assembly plant in the city of West Point that will create more than 2,800 jobs at a $1.2 billion economic investment in the state. The business deal includes a commitment from five supplier companies to locate in Georgia, meaning an additional 2,600 jobs. It is scheduled to begin testing operations by May 2008 and reach full production by 2009, and will include two vehicle lines, an engine assembly line, paint shop, training center, welcome center and two adjacent supplier facilities.
Biofuels is another exciting area. In February, Range Fuels, Inc., a Colorado-based cellulosic ethanol company, announced Georgia's first wood-based cellulosic ethanol plant in Treutlen County. Instead of ethanol produced from corn, wood waste from our indigenous Georgia pine trees will be the main source of this facility's biomass needs. This plant means 70 jobs and $225 million of capital investment. At the beginning of the year, Governor Perdue introduced legislation that would exempt sales taxes on the purchase of materials and equipment used in the construction of biofuel facilities in Georgia. We also had announcements for a corn-based ethanol plant with two more on the drawing boards and a wood pellet-based plant.
Q. Does the economic development department have a specific industry focus?
A. Our focus is on the industries that provide some economic sustainability to our state; sectors that are strong now and have the capability to use our natural resources and our work force to increase that strength. Logistics is important. We have the fastest-growing ports on the East Coast in Savannah and Brunswick, and very active airports.
Our advanced manufacturing sectors in aerospace, automotive, and material sciences show a substantial amount of growth. Our strong life sciences sector includes biotechnology, elder care, medical devices, and vaccine production. Now, we are one of the strongest states in the life sciences in terms of critical mass. We are working with Georgia Tech in electrical design and multimedia to encourage interest in advanced communications. We have Centers of Innovation focused on advanced communications, advanced manufacturing, and life sciences that are strategically aligned with industry. Our agriculture and forestry sectors are growing as a result of technology advances as well.
Q. Is any new legislation or initiatives on the horizon?
A. HB 186 has been passed by the legislature and is expected to besigned soon by the governor, to allow for a sales tax exemption for alternative fuel.
Q. What about foreign interests?
A. Our largest trading partner is Canada, followed by Mexico, China, the United Kingdom, and Japan. We are strategically trying to improve our global approach. We have 10 international offices around the world and will open one in China this spring. Currently, 44 countries operate almost 1,600 internationally owned facilities here. In 2006, international companies accounted for 36 percent - more than $2 billion - in new investment in the state. We are very attuned to the need to think and act globally, and we are very proactive in recruiting international companies to invest in our state and to market our products to those countries. With 60 consulates, a commercial trade office and bi-national chambers in Georgia, we are prepared to play on the international stage. It's critical that we know exactly where to place our money, people, energy, and time.