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Stanton Springs could take off
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Stanton Springs finally landed one: the elusive first industry.

Immediately after Baxter International announced it was locating a $1 billion plant in the 1,620-acre industrial park, located at the intersection of Newton, Walton and Morgan counties, interest from other companies ramped up and officials hope more deals will follow sooner rather than later.

"We've had considerable amount of interest that wasn't previously there," said Rick Bradshaw, president of TPA Realty Services, which is developing and marketing Stanton Springs. "That's fully expected. You have to start somewhere and where you start, if you have a good, quality commitment, that sets the stage. We think there will be considerable amount of business that will follow this and that will compliment it and that's what we'll be focused on."

Stanton Springs has been a finalist in several industrial deals, but has never been selected, including losing major pharmaceutical company Merck to North Carolina's Research Triangle Park in 2006. This time around, the tables turned as Baxter choose Stanton Springs over Triangle Park, said Roger Harrison, senior vice president for economic development for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

"It's a game changer," said Bradshaw. "It's a just a start, but boy it couldn't be better one."

He said it validates the planning and patience shown by the four counties, Newton, Walton, Morgan and Jasper, that jointly invested $9 million in Stanton Springs in 1999. Newton and Walton invested the most at 37.5 percent a piece, while Morgan invested 15 percent and Jasper 10 percent; each county gets a return on investment at the same rate.

Alan Verner, chairman of the Joint Development Authority (JDA) that oversees Stanton Springs, said Thursday morning that most people are amazed at how four counties have worked hand in hand for so many years.

"It's quite a tribute to our community and the people in it, that we have worked this long and hard, almost 15 years to get to this point," Verner said at a JDA meeting to approve a local agreement for Baxter. "It's all about the people who are here that are involved with it. That's a big reason why the company chose to come here."

Though he has since passed away, former Newton County chairman Davis Morgan was remembered as the brainchild of Stanton Springs.

His widow, Kathy Morgan, current Newton County chairman, said Davis was a visionary used to forward thinking and a facilitator who knew how to surround himself with talented people. While Kathy said Davis pulled the first meetings together, she gave credit to elected officials of the day in four different counties for being willing to work together.

"He would be deliriously happy would be dancing a jig in the street singing at the top of his lungs and he didn't do any of those things," Kathy said Thursday. "What Baxter would have meant to him is quality jobs, educated jobs, locally for Newton County citizens (and other surrounding counties). He saw the downfall of the county as people sleeping here and driving to Atlanta, because that meant they would be away from their families an hour each way."

Former county commissioner Danny Stone said the idea for Stanton Springs and the JDA grew out of a need for more industrially-zoned land, particularly after a string of recruitment successes capped by the large SKC deal in 1996.

He and other officials knew it would likely take at least 10 years to recruit a major industry, but the key was to be ready when they came, Stone said.

In addition to the location, agreements by the city of Covington and Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority to increase utility capacity on site was key to getting Baxter, said Paul Michael, vice president of TPA Realty.
Water capacity in particular was important, as Baxter is expected to use a million gallons of water per day when fully built out, said Harrison.

The future of Stanton Springs appears bright, and an area badly in need of high-paying, high-quality jobs should hear more good news in the future.

"I think when you get a company like Baxter, the name reputation, they could have picked anywhere in the world to do this, that's the best advertising that area could get," said Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

"If (Baxter) can do that, other companies are going to say I'm going to look at (Stanton Springs) too. I think you're going to see a lot more foot traffic through it and I think you'll see a lot of success for the area. It's absolutely a great piece of property and it also proves when a company like Baxter comes in and the complexity of this deal, it makes everyone aware that the local community and can handle it. Which helps immensely going forward for them too. I think the sky's the limit."