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Clemons: Facebook's decision a team victory
Leaders across county lines work together for economic recruiting win
Marcello Banes, left, the chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, talks with state Rep. Bruce Williamson, R-Monroe, after the announcement of the Facebook Newton Data Center on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Atlanta. - photo by Patrick Graham

It’s not just because of our awesome natural resources and the great people who call Newton and Walton counties home that Facebook decided to build its ninth U.S. data center at Stanton Springs.

The millions of dollars in incentives didn’t make that decision either, at least not solely.

Wednesday’s announcement never would have happened without a year’s worth of work behind the scenes to bring this major company to the area.

Gov. Nathan Deal made the announcement at the State Capitol, along with U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and officials from Facebook. Afterward, there were sighs of relief and big smiles from the local people who made this happen.

“Today is indeed a proud day for all of Georgia, but especially for those four counties that formed the Stanton Springs development authority,” Deal said. “It is going to provide a great opportunity for those four counties that were a part of that original undertaking for a Joint Development Authority, as well as the people who live in other parts of the state of Georgia.”

The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties definitely has been a lightning rod over its two-decade history. Many wondered if anything ever would build at its Stanton Springs development near Social Circle.

But when I walked in the governor’s press office Wednesday morning at the Capitol, there’s a reprint of a magazine where Deal is celebrating Baxter, a forerunner of what is now pharmaceutical giant Shire PLC.

As part of the incentives to bring Shire here, the state built the Georgia Bioscience Training Center. Now we’ll add Facebook to the mix and suddenly we have a powerful calling card to the world that Newton and Walton counties are a place you really ought to consider for your industry or business.

And if you want to consider this area, you’ll get a full-court press with our best effort.

Most impressive to me is the way county lines were practically erased. Facebook’s new data center is entirely in Newton County, but that did absolutely nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of Walton County leaders.

“It won’t happen everywhere, but it’s regionalism at its best,” Shane Short, the executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County, told me moments after the announcement ended.

“When communities are determined to work together, we all grow together and we all benefit.”

Short said the Stanton Springs project began with an idea 20 years ago. The four counties pitched in to make it happen. And, within a short time, the investment by Facebook will make the four counties whole again.

“It really helps fulfill the vision of creating a high-tech development out there in what we would consider rural Georgia, honestly,” he said. “It’s a true success story over the years.

“It may have taken a long time to get here, no doubt about that, but we’ve finally arrived.”

The chairmen of the Board of Commissioners of the two counties were both happy.

Marcello Banes of Newton County is new on the job, barely a year in it. He’s a Democrat. His Walton counterpart, Republican Kevin Little, is 17 years into the job. They may have different backgrounds but both agree it was crucial for all parties to work toward one goal.

“So many people played a big part in this,” Banes said. “Our ED (economic development) team, the JDA, it’s been a great partnership over a long period of time. Things got bumpy sometimes, but when you’ve got a team that works together, everything works out in the end.”

Little said the teamwork shown by the four counties “was a big deal to shown that we’ve all worked together and established the infrastructure and the needs to attract something like Facebook. When Shire (came) a few years ago, it kind of opened people’s eyes, hey, it is real.

“And now, this right here, with the snap of a finger, everybody around the world is going to know where Social Circle is.”

That wouldn’t happen unless everyone were pulling in the same direction.

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is Twitter: @scoopclemons.