If you’ve driven along I-85 in southern Gwinnett County, you have undoubtedly noticed the huge building just south of Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The 170 acre facility opened in 1972, and was once the home of Western Electric’s fiber optic cable manufacturing plant, employing thousands of people in the type of job that provided a decent salary and lifestyle for someone with only a high school education.
Forty years later, the facility had been sold to OFS Technologies, which moved much of its production overseas. The company now only uses a small portion of the facility, and Jacoby Development wants to repurpose the complex into a movie studio known as Atlanta Media Campus. I got a tour of the facility a few weeks back, and saw where some of the Walking Dead and Hunger Games movies were made. It’s large enough to support the production of several movies at a time once it’s fully redeveloped.
Turning the complex into a studio keeps the property, one of the largest single parcels in Gwinnett, from being split up and sold off in pieces. It offers the prospect of long-term employment and high paying jobs for members of the creative class, who could repopulate and improve an area that had seen better days.
There’s one problem. As this morning’s edition of The Economist notes, Atlanta Media Campus has run into a shortage of skilled workers.
Georgia offers generous tax incentives to lure production companies. They can receive a credit for up to 30% of the costs incurred while making movies, as long as they spend more than $500,000. This convinced Mathew Hayden to move his firm, Cinipix, from California to Georgia. But Mr Hayden still imports many workers from Florida and New York. “It’s a big concern,” he says. The state’s movie business will only prove as profitable as its workers prove employable.
Georgia has invested a lot in supporting end encouraging the creation of educational opportunities that go beyond the traditional four year college degree. The article cites efforts like Go Build Georgia, and the investment of $318 million last year in the Peach State’s technical colleges. Also noteworthy is the merger earlier this year of Georgia’s workforce development and economic development departments.
In Governor Deal’s stump speech, he trumpets the state’s number one ranking as a place to do business. As this article reminds us, however, it’s not enough to provide tax incentives to lure companies to relocate or stay here. It’s also about providing an educated workforce that is prepared to take on the careers the 21st century provides.