Coronavirus impacts haven’t slowed down economic development throughout community
Almost one year removed from the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the community, Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said the local government’s fiscal policies — and philosophies — have not changed.
“We’ve always been pretty conservative and we stay pretty conservative in terms of not rapidly expanding service, trying to keep a tight lid on any additions to personnel, trying to budget conservatively with our revenue forecasts and projections,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the economy will pretty much be back to normal towards the latter part of this year.”
With prospects of multiple COVID-19 vaccines hitting the market in 2021 — in tandem with declining death rates — Olson said he’s hopeful that local concerns about the coronavirus will be assuaged.
“Georgia is a state and Bartow is a county and Cartersville is a city that have stayed fairly open,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of businesses that are still shut — you read that in some of these big cities, the vast majority of people are still working from home. I don’t know that I see much of that around here.”
To date, Olson said over 10,000 COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered through the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in Bartow County.
“It compares very favorably to some much larger counties, and they’re giving them as fast as they can get them,” he said. “We’ve told them we’re ready to provide personnel and they’ve told us ‘We can give as many shots as we’re getting.’”
Olson said the County is in the process of obtaining shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which requires specialized refrigeration equipment.
Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak Olson said the County has had no difficulties maintaining a required three-month reserve balance — indeed, he said the local government looks to add even more funding to those emergency coffers due to strong property tax revenue numbers.
Although the County’s SPLOST numbers decreased last March and April, Olson said for the year Bartow’s figures actually increased by 1%.
“We had projected it to grow 4% or 5%, so it didn’t meet our projection,” he said. “But it was still higher than last year. January was great this year — it was up 20% over last year.”
At the moment, Olson said the County’s SPLOST fund has well over $6 million in it.
“We’re accruing money towards a variety of projects,” he said. “We’re accruing money towards the Hamilton Crossing Park, we’re accruing money for water and we’re accruing money for roads.”
Olson said early projections indicate Bartow’s tax digest is on pace to grow by several percentage points in 2021.
“People sometimes have that misimpression that the commissioner says ‘Raise this much money through the digest,’” he said. “The tax assessors report to the board of tax assessors, who are individuals appointed by the grand jury. And their job under State law is to get the fair market value — talk to anybody in the real estate industry and there is huge demand.”
Olson noted that residential market growth is exploding nationwide. At this point, however, he said he has yet to see signs that former residents of metro Atlanta’s more densely-populated counties are “fleeing” to the exurbs of Bartow County — a situation that has been the case in states like New York.
“I think it’s more just driven by the booming economy and the number of jobs we’re adding,” he said. “Any house that goes on the market, fairly priced between say $180,000 and $280,000, is gone in days.”
Olson brought up the Stiles subdivision as an example. Representatives from developer Smith Douglas Homes told him houses are selling faster at that development than any other residential project the company has within the metro Atlanta area.
Despite the immense residential market growth, Olson indicates the latest Census numbers suggest Bartow’s overall population grew by just 10% between 2010 and 2020.
“Cherokee, right next door, grew 25%, Paulding grew something like 17%,” he said. “The market’s kind of finally noticing Bartow, in terms of both single family housing and logistics — both of them are kind of hitting us at the same time, saying ‘Hey, this is a good spot to be.’”
On an economic level, Olson said it’s apparent that Georgia has not been hit as hard by the COVID-19 crisis. While other states are posting nearly 50% revenue losses, Georgia’s numbers actually increased in 2020.
“We’re fortunate we’re not heavily exposed to some of these industries that have been hit so hard,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of economic development projects coming down the pipeline that have announced and some that haven’t announced … the industry isn’t slowing down.”
Off Cass-White Road developer Hillwood is already at work on two 300,000-square-foot-plus industrial facilities for a business park along Carson Loop. Meanwhile, developer Core5 Industrial Partners has two separate economic developments in line off Cass-White Road — one at the former KOA campgrounds site and another on the Galco property adjacent to the Highland 75 industrial park.
More major economic investments are planned off Busch Drive, including a new Wellmade Flooring manufacturing facility.
“There’s a project adjacent to Wellmade, another manufacturer about to be announced there,” Olson said. “There’s going to be a different kind of user, say, an automotive retail kind of a use coming, or a truck retail, coming to the other.”
Then there’s the spec buildings being constructed by developers Hines and IDI throughout the community.
“As far as we know, they don’t have tenants yet,” Olson said. “But they both are confident they’ll have tenants soon, they have long track records.”
But perhaps the most significant — and mysterious — economic development proposed in Bartow remains “Project Oak” in Emerson.
Documents submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) earlier this year revealed plans for a massive five-story, 2.6-million-gross-square-foot sorting facility on the northern campus of LakePoint Sporting Community.
While both Bartow County and City of Emerson officials have signed non-disclosure agreements pertaining to the company behind the development, rumors have swirled that the proposal comes from Amazon — the world’s third largest company by market capitalization metrics.
“The master plan that LakePoint first presented in 2012 or so, it had a big swath of light industrial,” Olson said. “It had the fields on the north campus and the industrial on the south, so that’s gotten swapped.”
The proposed sorting facility development, he said, is not “inconsistent” with the original vision for the mixed use property.
“It’s 1,400 acres that 100 acres of it is going to an industrial use because it’s right there by the interstate with great access,” he said. “And it’s all about access when you’re talking about logistics.”
DCA documents associated with the project indicates the development could bring thousands of new jobs to the community.
“‘Oak’ could be 2,400 jobs,” Olson said. “That’s what they stated in their application, 800 folks on three shifts.”
“I get the impression that will get worked out, one way or another,” he said. “When a company decides that it needs to be in a certain spot based on location, it’s kind of like a cell tower — if it needs to be there, it needs to be there.”