New UGA faculty get a glimpse of the rest of the state and ideas of how they can contribute to its progress.
When Kia Motors opened its manufacturing plant in Troup County in 2009, it brought with it 3,000 jobs. Soon, suppliers for the plant, which rolls 360,000 vehicles off the assembly line each year, moved into the area, bringing an additional 7,000 jobs.
The investment has paid off for the west Georgia county. Between 2000 and 2011 the median house hold income increased by 24 percent, from $31,886 to $39,664. Median house or condo values grew from $80,000 to $128,337 during the same time period.
Kia last year announced it would spend $1.6 billion over the next 16 years for new machinery at the plant to keep up with U.S. demand for the Korean car maker’s vehicles. Kia now has 8.7 percent of the U.S. automobile market share compared to 4 percent in 2006.
“Every single car you see has already been sold to a dealer,” Kia Public Relations Specialist Faith Jones says as she leads 40 new UGA faculty members on a tour of the plant in August.
The economic boost for Troup County and the surrounding region is the kind of progress UGA President Jere Morehead hopes will result from a new economic development initiative he launched during the summer. In addition to the economic development office in Athens, UGA now has an office of economic development in Atlanta, led by Sean McMillan, former director of western Georgia project operations for Quick Start, the state’s workforce development program.
The Atlanta office, located in the same building as the state Department of Economic Development, makes it easier for UGA to work with that department, as well as with Georgia Power, Georgia EMC, Georgia Electric Cities, the Department of Community Affairs and the state Chamber of Commerce to link resources at the university to business opportunities throughout the state. UGA’s economic development initiatives are overseen by the vice presidents for public service and outreach, and research.
“Our hope is that faculty from all the different disciplines will make the connection between their work and the capacity to attract economic development.”
Using UGA’s resources throughout the state is a mission of the land-grant university. UGA academic and public service faculty are already working in all 159 counties in Georgia, helping communities address infrastructure needs associated with population growth, improving public education systems, training government leaders, assisting farmers and offering suggestions that can improve residents’ quality of life.
The new faculty tour, which was revived this year by the provost and the vice president for public service and outreach, provides an opportunity for additional faculty members to see firsthand some of the issues facing the state and identify areas where their resources might be used.
“We hope it piques their interest in some part of the state that they’d want to return to,” says Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach. “Our hope is that faculty from all the different disciplines will make the connection between their work and the capacity to attract economic development.”
In Gainesville, Atlanta, West Point, Columbus, Americus, Tifton, Waycross, Savannah and Waynesboro, faculty members who have been at UGA for fewer than two years met with local and state officials, toured major industries and saw firsthand the economic generators in the different regions of the state.
“It’s really eye-opening to see all the different parts of Georgia, not just geographically but culturally, and the economic impact of the whole infrastructure,” says Debbie Murray, associate dean for extension and outreach in Family and Consumer Sciences. “I think it gives me a more holistic approach to my work.”
In Hall County, the tour visited Jaemor Farms, a family operation that has grown from a seasonal business to a year-round agritourism hotspot.
Drew Echols gave them the background on the farm, which has been in the Echols family for more than 100 years.
“It’s really eye-opening to see all the different parts of Georgia, not just geographically but culturally, and the economic impact of the whole infrastructure.”
“My granddaddy said, ‘We’re not putting in a corn maze. We’re not growing corn to let people walk through it,’” Echols says.
But that corn maze, as well as group tours, educational programs and seasonal activities, draws in 130,000 visitors during the month of October alone. In 2006 Jaemor sold 4,000 pumpkins. By 2010, that number had reached 30,000.
“They’re not just coming to buy,” Echols says. “They’re staying half the day.”
Agriculture remains a significant economic generator in Georgia, contributing more than $7 billion annually to Georgia’s $763.65 billion economy, according to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. One in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or related fields.
Poultry is the top farm commodity in the state and much of the northeast Georgia economy relies on poultry production and processing.
The military is another major economic engine for the state. Fort Benning, in Columbus, employs 40,000 people from the surrounding area. All U.S. Army infantry begin their training at Fort Benning, and special forces flow through the base for training, contributing to the local economy while they are there.
The UGA faculty were treated to lunch on the base, and then watched as special forces officers did ground training to prepare for jumps from the 34-foot- and 250-foot-tall towers on the base.
“Jumping is the easy part,” jokes Col. Gary Jones, who retired as garrison commander at Fort Benning in 1993 and now is executive vice president of military affairs for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. “The stopping is a son of a gun.”
In Savannah, the group toured Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., which produces luxury jetliners. The newest, the Gulfstream 650, which starts at $65 million, is on the assembly line through 2016.
The $30-billion-a-year company, which has been operating in Savannah since 1967, employs about 14,000 people at its corporate headquarters and plants in Savannah and Brunswick. In recent years, the company has seen its 80 percent market share in the U.S. drop to 50 percent, says John “Jay” Neely III, Gulfstream’s general counsel.
That caught the attention of Tim Quigley, a new assistant professor of management in the Terry College of Business.
“To hear (him) talk about that as a challenge, that’s something those of us in business can help with,” says Quigley, a private pilot who moved to Athens during the summer. “It’s just as important to help a successful company continue to be successful.”
During a bus tour of the Georgia Ports Authority, the faculty got a firsthand look at a major factor in the success of Georgia’s industry—the ability to move products in and out of the state by the ton every day.
The Georgia ports, in Savannah, Brunswick, Columbus and Bainbridge, employ about 300,000 full- and part-time employees—about 7 percent of the total workforce in the state—generating $67 billion in annual sales revenue.
Understanding the value of the transportation systems, like shipping, trucking and trains-faculty also visited the CSX rail yard in Waycross- is vital when helping students look for jobs, Quigley says.
“Not a lot of them want to work in the railroad industry,” he says. “But it’s critically important.”
Connie Frigo, an assistant professor of saxophone in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, came away from the tour with ideas of how UGA could help advance arts education in communities across the state, particularly where such programs have been eliminated in schools.
Holding concerts in people’s homes across the state and taking students to talk about music education in rural areas would help build bridges between the business and arts communities, which can sometimes seem at odds, Frigo says.
“It’s a huge quality of life issue,” she says. “Community outreach means more than just going to the local nursing home and playing there. We can use our outreach in a way that builds relationships.