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Carbondale Business Park—Economic Development Progress Report

Apr. 20, 2023

The Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority (JDA) is a jointly funded effort by our city and county to improve the economic prosperity of our community through job and investment creation.  This comes from retail, commercial, and industrial efforts.  This progress article will focus specifically on industrial recruitment mostly pertaining to Carbondale Business Park, but not completely.  As executive director of the JDA, I work with city and county staff, as well as Ali Harp, Anna Kate Sisson, and the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce team on initiatives to make our community better.  City specific efforts include the Market Street renovation, housing development, and retail recruitment.  I (Carl Campbell) have been in this role for 8 years, so some of what I am describing below happened before I took this role. The people that were here before me deserve lots of credit for our success, and I am grateful for their efforts.     

During the housing recession from roughly 2008-2011, Whitfield County lost approximately 10,000 jobs and had an unemployment rate of around 13%.  That led the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners to purchase land for a new county owned industrial park with a goal of adding complimentary diversity to our job base.  The economic development goal for our community was to protect and grow our existing industry as much as we could while adding jobs that would not be as vulnerable to another housing recession.  With that, the process was started to analyze land choice options, purchase some land, and create what is now known as Carbondale Business Park.  I am told that the goal of the park was to have 1,000 jobs located in the park, which is one benchmark that I use to determine our success.   

The land was purchased by the county and pretty soon after that there was an agreement made to sell some of the property to XL Brands for a new facility to make adhesives. XL Brands became the anchor tenant in the park, and a partnership was verbally made with XL Brands allowing the economic development team to use their facility for prospect visits when needed. The company was very gracious in sharing their space and was crucial to the economic development efforts.  XL Brand has since been acquired and had a name change to Bostik. They are still in Carbondale Business Park operating their business and have approximately 50+ jobs there at this time. We appreciate their efforts to help us grow our community.       

Early efforts to market the park was not as easy as officials might have hoped, but the interest was high.  There was interest from a lot companies to build a location in the business park, but most of them were companies that wanted to compete with our legacy floor covering companies, making the same products, or they were companies that wanted to create mostly low paying jobs. These jobs would not be competitive in our market or offer our citizens a better paycheck.  All of the land could have been sold very quickly but the commissioners were not willing to settle for something less than the stated goal of diverse jobs with equal or better pay than our existing job base.  

One characteristic about the land in our area is that most of it looks like a great place to hunt, hike, or fish, but maybe not perfect industrial land.  Carbondale Business Park was no exception to that, so many of the companies that looked at the land were worried that they would find lots of rock in the rolling terrain and create expensive problems for their project, so ultimately, they walked away from our community.   

After several of close calls and near misses with prospective companies, in 2015, the commissioners agreed to grade one site in Carbondale Business Park to increase our chances of landing a new company.  That effort led to much more interest and activity from prospects, and in 2018 a South Korean company named Hanwha Qcells agreed to put a facility in Carbondale Business Park.  They had a very aggressive timeline for their project, and the graded site helped them meet their timeline.  The company, which now goes by Qcells here in the U.S., promised to hire 525 people and invest $130 million dollars in our community in 5 years from the opening of the plant.  What they did was much faster. They started their building project in June of 2018, and by January 2019 they were making solar panels in their new 360,000 square foot facility.  Within 9-10 months of breaking ground, they had over 550 employees and had nearly spent all of the money they had promised to spend.  By mid-2022, Qcells had close to 800 employees located in Whitfield County and were discussing an expansion of their Whitfield County footprint.  Those expansion plans have now been formalized and the expansion is under way.  They purchased additional land in Carbondale Business Park and are building a second facility next to their current one.  Due to some wetlands next to the current site they could not combine the buildings, but they sit next door to each other.  The expansion plans were announced in 2022 and again in early 2023. The plan is now an expansion of 980 additional jobs with $379 million of new investment.  When this expansion is complete we expect that they will spend $541 million and created 1700 total jobs, making their project the largest single investment and the most jobs in one location in Whitfield County.  With the new production lines, they will be able to almost triple their manufacturing capacity in Whitfield County.   

GEDIA manufacturing came to Carbondale Business Park in 2020. While much of the country was closed down for business activity our community worked hard to close this deal.  The state and our community leaders worked hard to keep our economy open, and this helped our efforts.  GEDIA is a German automotive company that makes structural steel parts for Mercedes Benz, and they are currently making parts for the EQS and EQB electric crossover vehicles.  GEDIA promised to invest $85 million in their facility and equipment and hire 200 people.  Production for this facility started in mid-2022, and currently the company has over 100 employees making parts for Mercedes Benz every day.   

Essentia Protein Solutions announced plans to build a new facility in Carbondale Business Park in late 2022, and they are now doing site work for their project.  They will invest $80 million in their facility and create 80 jobs serving the food industry.  They will create a cooking operation there and create broth for food companies that we all know and use today.  They have already hired employee number 1, and the rest will come starting later in 2023 and 2024.  They anticipate meeting all their investment and hiring goals in 3 years from the opening of the facility.   

There are a few small tracts of land left in Carbondale Business Park, but at this point most of the land is in use and occupied.  We will continue to market the remaining land to add more jobs and tax value to our community while also marketing privately held land to companies as well.  As an example of the privately held land efforts, we have helped create the Green Point Industrial Park which is now home to facilities for Healthier Choice Flooring, White Flyer, Recreation Group, and soon to be others.  This represents over $100 million in investment, 2 million square feet of new industrial space and 100+ jobs so far.    

Looking forward on all the projects mentioned above, projected taxes and revenue for the next 20 years from the park is over $65.9 million.  Although not an exact science or figure based of fluctuating millage rates and times of investments, I think these numbers show that the effort was worthwhile for a community that needed diversification and job growth.  As stated earlier, the goal when the land was purchased was 1000 jobs in the park, and we already have between 800-900 today.  I don’t know what the investment goal for the park was, but to date I can tell you that $267 million has been invested so far.  In process and to be complete by 2024-2025 is approximately $479 million more in investment and 1160 jobs from the projects listed above. In just a few years, Carbondale Business Park will have close to 2000 jobs located in the park and over $746 million of investment from diversified industries.        

Carbondale Business Park is providing good jobs and new tax base for our taxpayers and needed diversity for our community.  Although the effort to build, market, and ultimately fill Carbondale Business Park has been harder and took longer than we would like, I think that these numbers show that it was worth doing.  Thanks to all the past and current commissioners that believed in this effort.  I believe that good progress has been made there and our community is better because of their efforts.  


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