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‘Team’ effort helps Newton County lure major industries
rivian training
New Rivian paint team members train in a spot repair booth. It was unveiled recently the automotive company was in the late stages of negotiating to build a manufacturing facility in the Stanton Springs area. - photo by Special to The News

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County must be ready to meet the needs of any industrial prospect if it wants that employer to locate here.

Two of the more key players in any Newton County recruitment effort say the successful “team” approach among industrial recruiters, city, county and state governments, utilities and others has played a major role in luring new industry.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution recently reported electric vehicle maker Rivian Automotive is in “late-stage negotiations” to build a manufacturing facility on a large site near I-20 in the Stanton Springs area near Social Circle. 

Its investors include Amazon and Ford. Rivian also is considering a Texas site for the plant.

Mike Hopkins, executive director of Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority (NCWSA), said recruitment of industries is “a team effort” and Newton County “has a great team and everybody seems to work together.”

NCWSA officials depend on area and state economic development agencies to talk to the other entities involved in a major project, he said.

“We’re not a driver of growth,” Hopkins said. “The county has to make the decision whether they they want things to come, so it’s important that (Newton County IDA) makes sure that they talk to cities and the county and they’ve been successful in doing that, in my opinion.

“For a county our size and a (water and sewer) system our size, I think it’s pretty amazing to have what we have,” he said. 

Serra Hall, executive director of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority (IDA), said she was “in frequent communication” with local utilities and other providers of basic services about what they have available as well as new infrastructure and upgrade plans “and even areas that are not available.”

“It’s important to have an understanding and I’m grateful for the teams that work to make sure we are communicating effectively together,” she said. 

“It’s a critical part of our office’s job to have great relationships with our utility partners, both membership or privately owned or municipal based,” Hall said. 

She said Newton County and the IDA’s regional partners “have tremendous utility assets.”

“We have been blessed by hard-working individuals that are leaders in their respective fields,” Hall said. 

The Stanton Springs area includes the long-established Stanton Springs business park and the new Stanton Springs North park. The Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties developed and maintains them. 

Stanton Springs already is home to Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Facebook Newton Data Center and Georgia’s BioScience Training Center with a new project identified as Baymare also considering locating there.

The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) recently awarded a $25 million Georgia Fund loan to NCWSA for construction of a new transmission main, water storage reservoir and upgrades to the Authority’s water reclamation facility. The project is planned to serve future industrial and commercial demands at Stanton Springs.

Hopkins said cultivating good relationships with area governments has been critical to NCWSA’s ability to serve new industries. 

For example, NCWSA has been “real fortunate” that it has worked well with the Newton County government and Joint Development Authority on projects like service to Stanton Springs, he said.

He said the utility also worked through the IDA and Georgia Department of Economic Development to meet the needs of past projects — such as when the company that is now Takeda first considered locating in Stanton Springs.

Economic development agencies typically seek details about amounts of water and sewer capacity the NCWSA can provide in a certain area, Hopkins said.

“If you don’t have the capacity or you don’t have the flow, you can’t tell somebody you can get it here when you can’t, when you don’t have the proper infrastructure,” he said. 

NCWSA officials know “what our infrastructure can and can’t do,” Hopkins said. 

“We know what’s in our capital improvement program and we go through those ‘check boxes’ that we go through internally, just making sure that we can deliver what’s being requested,” he said.

“A lot of times what happens is the deeper you get into the negotiations, you find out some truer numbers,” he said. “Everybody up front is asking for a lot, or not knowing how much to ask.” 

The NCWSA typically does not like to approve projects whose costs would require increasing rates on existing customers, Hopkins said.

“Could there be something that comes up that we really struggle with? My board knows that we would not work in that direction,” he said.

“But if we could do it as a benefit to the community, our board is willing for us to do all we can to make it happen,” Hopkins said.

Stanton Springs North is partially in the city limits of Social Circle, which has multiple projects in the works like sidewalk enhancement and infrastructure upgrades, according to The Covington News’ sister publication The Walton Tribune. 

The city council is currently drafting a park use policy for the city’s parks. Social Circle city officials also conducted public surveys and brought in a housing consultant this past spring to determine how to avoid sprawl while still allowing for growth, the Tribune reported.

In early November, Social Circle signed an amended Service Delivery Strategy agreement with the JDA for Stanton Springs and Stanton Springs North. 

This allows the authority to select now and in the future services to include EMS, code enforcement, building inspections, economic development, police and fire protection, planning and zoning, natural gas, wastewater collection and treatment, and water supply and distribution, the Tribune reported

Hopkins said new industries opening in Newton County pay taxes which evens out the tax base and takes some of the burden for funding basic services off individual property owners.

“Hopefully, it’s providing for the economics of the county and just not (adding) more residential like we were in the early 2000s where it was all residential,” Hopkins said. “It’s more balanced now and that helps us all.”