Georgia Tech EDA University Center Funds Redevelopment and Housing Studies for Two Georgia Towns

Analyses to help community leaders create long-term
residential home development growth strategies
The Depot building.
The AB&A Historic Train Depot in Fitzgerald, Georgia, is one of the community’s key attractions. The Depot is home to the Blue & Gray Museum, the Genealogy Research Center, and Collins Railroad Collection.

FITZGERALD, Ga. — In many ways, this South Georgia town boasts the best of small rural communities. Just 23 miles east of Interstate 75, Fitzgerald has a busy downtown thoroughfare with shops, antique stores, and eateries. It has a modern airport with a 5,000-foot runway, an active mainline railroad, and industrial parks. It’s also home to a museum with a nod to its 1895 beginnings as a community and haven for veterans who fought on both sides of the Civil War.

Fitzgerald also has a successful history of industrial recruitment that has provided the community with a significant manufacturing base. Recent capital investments in wood products, food and beverage processing, plastics, and manufacturing have increased employment, personal income growth, and the community’s GDP.

With its local economy steadily improving, this community of 9,000 is also looking to boost its new home development construction activity. Now, city leaders and officials from surrounding Ben Hill County are working with the Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) and EDA University Center at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute to produce a study to figure out a viable strategy.

The study is funded in part through an Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) grant, which is administered by the EDA University Center. These grants are targeted toward economically distressed communities that can’t afford the cost of this type of comprehensive economic development research. EDA University Center grants offset some expenses that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive to rural communities.

CEDR is conducting the six-month research and analysis project in Fitzgerald, which entails looking at housing that’s for sale, determining what the rental rates are, and developing housing development strategy recommendations for the entire city, said Betsy McGriff, a CEDR associate project manager and lead researcher on the study. It will also include ways to maximize cost effective development strategies, such as new home construction in historic neighborhoods to help revitalize them.

“Our objective is to get a much better understanding of the factors that are deterring new home development,” said Jason Dunn, executive director of the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority. “We want to create more homeownership and have the data needed to influence new residential development in Ben Hill County.

Jason Dunn portrait
Jason Dunn is executive director of the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority.

The need for the Fitzgerald study comes as the community has seen increased demand for more housing with options in both single family, owner-occupied homes, as well as rentals. But the city’s existing inventory isn’t enough to meet the demand, nor is it energy efficient, comprised of buildings that are at least 100 years old.

“We believe the study will give us the market data needed to pursue a public-private partnership to meet the community needs and lead to residential development that will provide housing solutions in one of Georgia’s most rural areas,” Dunn said.

CEDR is also doing a nine-month study for the City of Jefferson Downtown Development Authority, located in North Georgia’s Jackson County, about 22 miles northwest of Athens. That multifaceted project, which is also partly funded by an EDRP grant, includes a housing market analysis to create a strategy to get more residential housing units built closer to its downtown.

It also includes a retail market analysis to determine what goods and services are needed in the area. It also includes visioning sessions to advise the Downtown Development Authority and help its leaders prioritize strategies and future steps needed for maximum community impact.

The Missing Middle

The two projects reflect the growing housing challenge that scores of communities face across the country said Alan Durham, a CEDR researcher and director of the Basic Economic Development Course.

“Across the U.S., right now we’re short about 4 million housing units. And a lot of those missing units are entry level affordable housing, and workforce housing for police, fire fighters, nurses, and teachers. That’s what’s called the missing middle,” said Durham, who has been researching the national trends and leads the Jefferson project research.

As costs rise, developers are trending toward building very high-end homes. While the high-end housing market is doing well, not enough at the other end — entry-level housing — is being built, squeezing out a market segment communities need to attract.

“Millennials and Gen Z, they can’t even get their foot in the door in the housing market anymore,” Durham said. “The ideal range on housing expenditures is 25% to 30% of gross income. In reality, many are spending over 50% of their wages on housing, leaving them cash-poor to deal with basic necessities and unforeseen expenses.”

Part of the research CEDR will do includes data analyses of both communities. The research will break both communities into their respective income tiers to see how many people make a set amount of money per year, Durham said.

Based on the different income tiers, the CEDR analyses in Fitzgerald and Jefferson will guide the types of housing price points leaders in both communities should pursue.

Detailed Analysis

In addition to the income tiers and bands major employers in each community pay, the CEDR studies will analyze employee commuting patterns, where residents shop for staple goods and services, and other factors that shape where people decide to live.

“These are very rural markets so our work to pull meaningful and actionable data will be different than in a metro area where it’s a little clearer or there’s just more data to be had,” McGriff said. “Our focus and approach will be a lot more granular to assess the demands of a rural market and pull out really meaningful data.”

Armed with that data, both communities will be positioned to develop strategies for targeted engagement with the right mix of investors and developers, McGriff said.

“They’re going to have to sell their communities to investors using the data we produce and the recommendations that we develop together for development strategies,” McGriff said. “These EDA University Center grants are really an investment tool for economic development, and they can leverage that money to attract investments to their communities, which could lead to more jobs and increased tax base, which just then cycles into helping these communities thrive.”

About the Georgia Tech EDA University Center
The Georgia Tech EDA University Center is a program funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) through its EDA University Center program. Led by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Georgia Tech EDA University Center supports outreach activities that seek to promote job creation, development of high-skilled regional talent pools, business expansion in innovation clusters, and create and nurture regional economic ecosystems in the state of Georgia and other states within the EDA Atlanta region (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee). The Center’s primary focus areas are innovation-led ecosystem support for universities and communities and strategic economic development support for distressed communities. To learn more, please visit grow.gatech.edu/eda-university-center.

About the Center for Economic Development Research
The Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) is a collaborative team of economists, city planners, and economic development practitioners. Our talented economic development professionals have the research and implementation experience needed to help economic developers, community leaders, and industries alike understand the opportunities and challenges in fostering local economic development. CEDR is a unit of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s chief business outreach and economic development organization. To learn more, please visit cedr.gatech.edu.

Increasing Expertise

The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Leigh Hopkins earns her Certified Economic Developer credential

Economic developers around the state, many with years of experience and expertise themselves, often hire the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) for assistance with workforce development, strategic planning, fiscal and economic impact analyses, and more. Now, when CEDR gets a call, the program will have one more resource to offer. Leigh Hopkins, senior project manager at CEDR, is a newly minted Certified Economic Developer (CEcD). It’s a national designation that’s been years in the making, and marks Hopkins as an authority in the field of economic development.

Leigh Hopkins, CEDR senior project manager

The credential wasn’t always her goal. “I’m a city planner by trade and education,” Hopkins said.

She completed a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech in 2005, then worked for the city of Atlanta as well as the private sector before coming back to her alma mater in 2008. After joining CEDR, she got her certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.

“I’ve held that certification ever since 2010, because it’s the industry credential for the planning profession, and I was hired here to work on projects with a planning component,” she said. “Over time, my job has morphed from planning, which can sometimes be idealistic, into economic development where the rubber meets the road in terms of helping communities implement their plans, but economic development wasn’t my area of expertise at first.”

As her role changed to include economic development-type work — strategic plans for communities and workforce development, primarily — she was encouraged to pursue the CEcD designation. It’s a journey that can take years and involves core classes central to the economic development field, at least four years of work experience, and a three-part comprehensive exam.

“When I started working at Georgia Tech, we had two senior managers who had their CEcD certifications,” Hopkins said. “They were mentors and encouraged us to participate in professional development courses. Georgia Tech is one of the host sites for courses offered by the International Economic Development Council, the accrediting body for the CEcD. I was encouraged to take their classes.”

To receive the certification, candidates must complete four required courses: Basic Economic Development, Business Retention and Expansion, Economic Development Credit Analysis, and Real Estate Development and Reuse. In addition, candidates choose two courses from a list of electives that include finance, marketing, small business development, and neighborhood development strategies. Hopkins selected economic development strategic planning and workforce development as her electives, since they are the areas she works in most often.

Her current boss, CEDR Director Alfie Meek, Ph.D., also supported her in getting the designation. “Our primary clients are the local economic developers around the state, many of whom have the CEcD certification themselves,” Meek said.  “As the ‘experts’ who are hired to provide advice and thought leadership to these communities, it gives us instant credibility and rapport with our clients if we have put in the hard work to achieve that same level of professional credential.”

Hopkins agrees that it’s hard work. In fact, only about one-third of those who take the exam pass it. She has some tips for people who are considering it.

    • Study the books. Much of the test is straight from those.
    • Take a prep course or two.
    • Practice writing the essays.
    • Learn the terminology.
    • Get a mentor or study buddy.

“Passing the exam shows that you have arrived in this field,” Hopkins said. “There are also good networking opportunities and good opportunities for professional development within the field.” And while the credential is significant to her, it’s more meaningful in the context of her job.

“It was important to have someone on our staff to get the certification, to add credibility to what we do and how we interact with our clients,” Hopkins said. “I think it gives our clients peace of mind. They feel that they’re in good hands with somebody who is accredited and well-versed in the economic development field.”

 

Qcells Expansion Puts Focus on Georgia Tech’s iWorks Program

Offering connects employers and community leaders
with resources to drive economic development success

The good news: Northwest Georgia is slated to get a big economic development boost following a major announcement and planned company expansion that promises to create 3,500 new jobs. The challenge: In this still-tight job market, where’s a company to start?

When the company in question is Dalton-based solar-panel manufacturer Qcells, which has a 1,000-employee Dalton expansion set to begin manufacturing in August and a second expansion bringing 2,500 employees to Bartow County in 2024, a logical place to start is Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Specifically: iWorks.

The organization – technically named Igniting Workforce Opportunities and Reinforcing Knowledge and Skills – operates in Northwest Georgia and launched in 2017 out of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI). That initiative brought together the University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia, K-12 school systems in Georgia, and the private sector to help fill workforce gaps in high demand fields like advanced manufacturing in the northwest part of the state.

Leigh Hopkins, iWorks project manager and CEDR senior project manager

“We see ourselves in a facilitator role making connections,” said Leigh Hopkins, the iWorks project manager and senior project manager for Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR).

iWorks is a program of CEDR, which is housed in the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s comprehensive economic development unit. iWorks is able to connect the dots in Northwest Georgia because CEDR has been working on projects including strategic plans and workforce development there since 2012. For example, iWorks recently sponsored a job fair, where 106 people found employment, including several who went to work at Qcells.

“We also had a webinar in November called After the Ribbon Cutting, that addressed what happens after these big announcements like the one from Qcells are made,” Hopkins said. “How is the community supposed to find people to fill the jobs that are coming?”

It’s an important topic for the region of about 700,000 people, and just one reason the iWorks board includes representatives from local manufacturers such as Qcells, economic and workforce developers, technical college representatives, and others, who work in concert to help deliver a growing and educated workforce to the region. One key to ensuring that new industry and new expansions can be successful.

Candice McKie, CEDR project manager

“iWorks is a trusted partner and conduit in helping our member companies and organizations work together to address common issues,” said Candice McKie, CEDR project manager. “We have the ability to have all of the key players in one room to discuss some of the same shared workforce challenges, and to be able to relay that information to the development authorities, the chambers, and the school systems, instead of having to go to those groups individually.”

Lisa Nash, the senior director of human resources; environmental, health, and safety; and general affairs at Qcells, echoed McKie’s sentiments.

“Being a part of iWorks puts at my fingertips the tools that I need to understand the region,” Nash said, explaining why she is so committed to the organization’s mission. “As an HR professional in this labor market, I have to understand what everyone else is doing. I need to know what other company is expanding, what other company is maybe not doing so well, what’s going to impact our labor market, and what’s happening from a wage perspective.”

iWorks gives her a place to learn all of that in one monthly meeting.

“iWorks understands the industry and they understand this region, and the needs of the business leaders in order to be successful,” Nash said. “Being a part of iWorks gives me a bird’s eye view of what I need or what countermeasures I need to put in place to be prepared for obstacles or challenges.”

While iWorks is many things, it isn’t a problem solver, she said. “They give you the ideas and the connections for you to solve your problems, for you to be able to come up with resources, they connect you with so many resources.”

Some of those resources are the webinars iWorks has facilitated. In addition to After the Ribbon Cutting, the organization as focused on topics such as affordable housing, another key component of a successful workforce, and nontraditional hiring, which includes successful second-chance programs for people who have been released from prison.

“What we hear from manufacturers is that they’re beating their heads against the wall trying to find employees,” said Hopkins. “We’ve found that people who come from a second chance background, people who are really targeted with employment opportunities, are much more successful and the employers are better able to retain them than folks who just fill out an application.”

iWorks also puts together tours of manufacturing facilities, including Qcells, for area high school students, who may not know what they want to do after graduation. “Just getting exposure to industry has been very helpful for the students,” says Hopkins.

Other programs include Be Pro Be Proud, an initiative led by the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development that introduces high school students to a variety of industries through a hands-on mobile lab. iWorks sponsored the mobile workshop’s visits to 10 high schools across the region. “We had a total of 963 students visit the mobile workshop, and 86% of those signed up to receive information and career opportunities that are related to their industry of interest,” said McKie.

iWorks is also working to help expand Project Purpose, a summer program that connects high school students to companies in the area.

The goal of all these programs is to help local companies and those that are moving into the region find the well-trained workforce they need. And while the work just got 3,500 times harder, the iWorks board is excited about the expansion of Qcells.

John Zegers, iWorks board co-chair and GaMEP’s NW Georgia regional manager

“It’s important for our board to stay flexible and fluid,” said John Zegers, co-chair of the iWorks board and Northwest Georgia regional manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “That flexibility allows us to move where the need is and where the trends go. I think the makeup of our board is perfect for that, because we’re all on the front lines, we know what’s going on, and we’ll be able to keep our group relevant for what’s needed out there.”

Despite her extremely busy schedule as the Dalton expansion barrels toward August, Nash says she isn’t about to give up her seat on iWorks’ board.

“iWorks is committed to connecting education and the workforce so that we have a sustainable workforce for the future of manufacturing,” she said. “They’re starting younger and younger getting these kids interested in industry. I think iWorks does a really good job of balancing the current workforce and the future workforce.”

Learn more about the science of solar power and ways Georgia Tech researchers are helping build clean energy infrastructure in the state in $2.3B Qcells Solar Power Investment Holds Major Potential for Georgia.

 

Gov. Kemp taps Center for Economic Development Research director for coronavirus task force

Alfie Meek is an economist and director of the Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. (Photo: Jennifer Stalcup)

Looking to anticipate and blunt the effects of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic on Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has convened a coronavirus task force that looks at the economic, health, emergency response and preparedness, and housing implications of the deadly disease.

 

The 66-member task force is comprised of four subcommittees, including one focused on economic impact. That subcommittee includes Alfie Meek, economist and director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) at Georgia Tech.

 

“The role of the Economic Impact Subcommittee is to help predict the economic effects on the state of Georgia from COVID19 and make recommendations,” Meek said. “We‘re also being asked to brainstorm policies that might be implemented to help ease the economic pain from this event.”

 

Meek has more than 25 years of experience in economic/fiscal impact analysis and community-based research. He leads the five-member CEDR staff, which works with its clients — economic developers, community leaders, and industry — to help them understand the opportunities and challenges in fostering local and regional economic development.

 

Meek is one of three economists selected to serve on the governor’s task force subcommittee. The others are Jeffrey Dorfman, the state fiscal economist who is the subcommittee chairman, and Thomas Cunningham the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s chief economist.

 

The full subcommittee met for the first time on March 19 in a virtual conference call.

 

“One clear goal is to represent the many different facets of Georgia’s economy that we think will be economically vulnerable at this time,” Meek said.

 

In addition to Dorfman, Cunningham, and Meek, the Economic Impact Subcommittee members include:

  • Allan Adams, State Director UGA Small Business Development Center
  • Nick Ayers, Managing Partner AFH Capital
  • Will Bentley, Georgia Agribusiness Council
  • Donna Bowman, Office of the State Treasurer
  • Labor Commissioner Mark Butler
  • Peter Carter, Delta Air Lines Chief Legal Officer (and Chair, Metro Chamber)
  • Bill Douglas, Athens First Bank & Trust
  • Georgia State Sen. Frank Ginn
  • Walter Kemmsies, economic consultant to Georgia Ports Authority
  • Steve McCoy, Chief Investment Officer, Office of the State Treasurer
  • Richard McPhail, Chief Financial Officer, Home Depot
  • Georgia House Rep. Clay Pirkle
  • Joe W. Rogers, III, Waffle House
  • Jessica Simmons, Department of Revenue Deputy Commissioner
  • Jim Sprouse, Executive Director Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association
  • Will Wade, Georgia Student Finance Commission

Georgia Institute of Technology launches the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge

Georgia Smart Communities Challenge

The Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) and its partners announce the launch of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge (Georgia Smart). The effort is the first statewide program to support local governments across Georgia with seed funding, technical assistance, and more as they plan and activate smart development.

 

Georgia Smart seeks proposals in the areas of smart mobility and smart resilience. Each of the four winning teams will receive direct grant funding of up to $50,000, as well as additional funds for research and technical assistance with a required local match.

 

The grants are made possible through funding from the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Power Co. Also supporting this effort are the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Centers for Innovation, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Technology Association of Georgia.

 

Two of the winning teams will be from rural communities and the other two from more urban Georgia cities.

 

“We’ve spent the past year in workshops and dialogue with local governments across Georgia to better understand their challenges and priorities. From these communications, we developed a program that is sensitive to the local context while fast-tracking smart communities,” said Debra Lam, managing director of Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech. “We aim to create more models for smart development that can be shared and applied across the state and beyond.”

 

The first program of its kind in the United States, Georgia Smart brings together an unprecedented coalition of university, industry, and public sector partners to support local governments’ adoption of cutting-edge technologies in their communities. The program is also unique in that it extends beyond large cities to smaller communities whose voices have not been as prominent in smart community development and who may not have access to technology resources.

 

The Georgia Smart initiative is open to all communities in Georgia. Local Georgia governments of any size — cities, counties, or consolidated city-county governments — will lead selected teams. Georgia Smart will provide seed funding and access to technical assistance, expert advice, and a network of peers. A Georgia Tech researcher will assist and advise each team and conduct research in support of the community’s needs and goals.

 

CEDR will provide strategic planning and facilitation assistance to the recipients of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge grants, and help those communities activate their smart community plans. For more information on the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, please contact Leigh Hopkins, senior project manager with Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at 404.894.0933 or email leigh.hopkins@innovate.gatech.edu.

 

Comprised of a dozen programs, including CEDR, EI2 is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based program of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization, and economic development.

 

“This is a chance for communities — both urban and rural — to look at ways of moving their economies forward by focusing on ideas centered on innovation, transportation, and broadband infrastructure among other economic development opportunities,” Hopkins said. “We’re looking forward to working with the winning teams and help them develop their ideas.”

 

Georgia Tech and its partners will work with the winning teams throughout the year on implementing their proposals, creating four testbeds of smart community development. For more information on applying for the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, visit: http://smartcities.gatech.edu/georgia-smart.

U.S. Commerce Secretary visits Northwest Georgia

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, (fifth from left) and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams (far left) were in Northwest Georgia on May 6 to visit several manufacturing facilities and discuss ways to build a skilled curriculum for the next generation working in a highly automated manufacturing environment and better engage parents and teachers to redefine manufacturing,
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, (fifth from left) and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams (far left) were in Northwest Georgia on May 6 to visit several manufacturing facilities and discuss ways to build a skilled curriculum for the next generation working in a highly automated manufacturing environment and better engage parents and teachers to redefine manufacturing. (Photo credit: Eric Beavers)

U.S. Dept. of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams visited Northwest Georgia recently to tour the Engineered Floors facility and the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy.

They participated in a round table discussion with the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) Consortium, Floor360, and Communities That Work Partnership (CTWP) leaders from industry, workforce development and the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy.

The May 6 discussion centered on building a skilled curriculum for the next generation working in a highly automated manufacturing environment, better engagement of parents and teachers to redefine manufacturing, development of skilled pathways to manufacturing employment through apprenticeships, and the launch of the new Advanced Manufacturing and Business Academy (AMBA) at the College and Career Academy.

The IMCP program is one of the Commerce Department’s main initiatives to support job creation and accelerate manufacturing growth. The goal is to make communities more economically strong by transforming their industrial ecosystems into globally competitive manufacturing hubs. Georgia Tech, through its Center for Economic Development Research unit, partnered with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to develop a comprehensive strategy focused on advanced manufacturing in the carpet and flooring industries in the region.

The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration designated the Northwest Georgia region an IMCP “Manufacturing Community” in 2014.  This designation gives organizations that support the industry via the Northwest Georgia’s Advanced Manufacturing Strategy elevated status for certain federally aligned grant programs.

Throughout the IMCP initiative, the region has placed particular focus on workforce development issues.  As an outgrowth of IMCP, Northwest Georgia was selected to participate in the CTWP, a one-year joint project between EDA and the Aspen Institute. The CTWP was a competitive application process and the Northwest Georgia region won the selection following a competitive process against other applications across the country.

Each partnership/cohort consists of three to four individuals from organizations within their regions who are in a position to accelerate change to benefit businesses and workers through industry-led workforce development strategies, one of whom represents the voice of business.

The goal of CTWP is to accelerate and document promising, evidence-based best practices in regional collaboration for talent development that promotes growth and opportunity in the regional economy.

READ MORE on the Floor360 blog.