By LYDIA BERGLAR
A workforce housing grant was the major topic of the May 15 Industrial Development Authority meeting. The IDA also briefly introduced a new project and discussed other minor business matters.
Executive Director Evan Stone introduced the new project, calling it Project Sandrock. He reported that he had a phone call with a landowner and a potential business prospect. “It’s large commercial, not necessarily industrial, but it would fall under our purview.” The company is looking for 200-600 acres. Stone didn’t say where the land in discussion is located, but he said a site visit would be happening soon.
Stone also noted that he would be getting an update on Integer’s expansion on May 16. He added that Trenton Pressing is moving ahead with their building project.
The IDA then turned to the topic of housing. Stone requested permission to pursue a workforce development and housing grant from OneGeorgia Authority. The grant would provide up to $2.5 million to be used for infrastructure (roads, water, etc.) and up to $1 million toward home construction.
Stone said, “Housing is becoming one of the biggest issues for industrial development and growth for the workforce…I don’t really know how this works as far as putting out an RFI or RFP to potential contractors, but I’d like to be able to apply for some of this money. We need homes for potential workers.”
Stone clarified that the funds are for a significant number of homes, rather than just five or ten homes, saying, “I think it needs to be, bare minimum, a 50-home subdivision.” Restrictions would also be in place preventing these homes from becoming vacation rentals.
The earliest date that the IDA could apply is the second Friday of July.
The IDA raised several questions about the timeline, restrictions, administering the funds, what-if situations, and more. They voted to “move ahead with the discovery phase of the grant” in order to continue research and begin answering these questions.
At the end of the meeting, they returned to the subject, with Stone saying, “These 149 [graduating high school seniors], they’re already starting to think, ‘Where am I gonna live, where am I going to work?’ We’ve got to provide housing for them. Unless they have land that’s owned by their parents where they can build, they’re going to have to go somewhere else to be able to rent something. We don’t have rental property.”
George Williams continued, “We’re going to lose our kids. I know a lot of people around here don’t want to change too much, but if we don’t change somehow, we’re going to lose our youth.”
Leisa Cagle added, “It’s already changed. The lineman school changed everything because it took up all the housing.”
Stone expanded on Cagle’s comment, saying, “The lineman school is an economic engine for the county, so it’s not a bad thing, and then the Airbnbs are not a bad thing, but what little rental housing we have…all the options are gone. We’re not the only ones experiencing that. Chattanooga’s put a moratorium on their Airbnbs; they won’t allow any more. They don’t have any reasonable rental property left. Our [goal] is not to make a moratorium. Our problem is we need to provide and build housing.”
Stone then presented the fiscal year 2024 budget, noting several areas of change from the previous budget. Having completed paying for one project recently, the IDA was able to increase line items in other areas.
Minor line items that saw an increase were items like board member training and signage for the industrial park. Mid-level line items that saw an increase included marketing jobs here in Dade County and paying the county government. Stone said, “We have not given the county an increase in years. This would be $5,000.00 additional. They’ve had increases on their side…This would go into their economic development funding, and that would be part of salaries for me and others.”
The IDA does not plan to meet in June, so they approved the budget and plan to amend as needed in July. Having recently set up two CDs, the IDA will have additional income from the interest, but they do not know the exact amount yet.
The authority entered executive session to discuss land acquisition.
The next IDA meeting will be July 17 at 10:30am.