Warehouses a growing concern for county

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Economic development was a topic at last week’s regular meeting of the Henry County Board of Commissioners, but not everyone on the board is pleased with the direction the county has been going in that regard.

Henry County Development Authority executive director Charlie Moseley and board chairman Geoffrey Cauble addressed the commissioners and gave a review of 2016 activity and what is in the works for the future. That presentation evolved into a discussion about the effects of the county’s warehouse district and what many citizens perceive is an overemphasis on warehouse development instead of other types of industries.

Moseley stated that incoming businesses invested more than $400 million in Henry County and created some 1,650 new jobs. He added that the results of those moves should include $22 million in extra revenue over the next 10 years. Other projects now being pursued have the potential for more than 3,000 new jobs, he said.

District 2 Commissioner Dee Clemmons told Moseley and Cauble that she is “bombarded” with questions from her constituents who use such terms as “warehouse anxiety” and “big-box swindle” when talking about local development. Her district contains 90 percent of the county’s warehouses, she said, suggesting that the companies coming to Henry County should make a more direct financial contribution to help the communities they are now a part of.

“These big-box companies get a lot of tax breaks to come here and our quality of life is impacted by the increased traffic,” she said. “Let’s allow these warehouses to invest in the communities they are affecting negatively. I want to see something tangible I can tell my constituents about when they ask.”

Cauble pointed out that the Development Authority does not provide any incentives for companies to build their facilities here, and much of that construction is motivated by zoning - ultimately a decision of the Board of Commissioners. “Most of the time construction is up and running without our involvement,” he said.

Clemmons said she has spoken with heads of several facilities in the county and found that they are mostly looking for employees with basic skills and a high school diploma for jobs that pay $10-12 per hour.

“We want high-quality paying jobs,” she said. “They’re not going to be able to live in Henry County, or anywhere else, on $10 an hour.”

Cauble said a community improvement district (CID) has been suggested as one way for industrial users in a specific area to pay back to the community and have those funds earmarked for road improvement and other issues.

Clemmons dismissed that idea, saying it would be at least five years before the county saw any money from a CID. “I want to see the big-box companies investing back into the community immediately,” she said.

Moseley pointed out that the average wage in Henry County from the logistics sector is closer to $20 an hour, but Clemmons brushed that aside as well.

“That’s not enough,” she said. “Henry County deserves better.”

Although he did not take part in this discussion, District 5 Commissioner Bruce Holmes raised some of the same issues in a recent statement regarding the Development Authority and “a new direction and vision” needed for the county.

“We’ve done a terrible job in our planning around the Hwy. 155 corridor and with our focus on just warehouses. Warehousing isn't bringing in the commercial tax dollars you would receive from your professional service-type industries such as tech, biotechnology, cyber security and big data analytics,” he stated.

Holmes wants Henry County to move away from warehouses “and the massive amounts of semi trucks which are squeezing out our residents and destroying our road infrastructure. The big picture for me is that our Development Authority moves in a direction that will attract the high-paying jobs Henry County citizens deserve.”