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No Waiting for Columbus

   A pair of $100-million investments by Georgia-Pacific in Savannah and AFLAC in Columbus punctuated autumn 2005 in Georgia.
   In Columbus, where it's based, AFLAC is investing in its biggest-ever project, an eventual 340,000-sq.-ft. (31,586-sq.-m.) expansion that will see the company add some 2,000 new employees in Columbus in the next five to seven years. That's not to say the company hasn't had its share of projects: This is the third major project in seven years, a process begun with the opening of its 600-employee computer service center in 1998. In 2001, the company opened its Paul S. Amos Campus at Corporate Ridge in Columbus, a 104-acre (42-hectare) development housing the company's claim processing and call center operations. Over the past five years, Aflac's U.S. sales growth has compounded at 16.4 percent annually.
   "It is my goal to see the company double in size over the next five to six years," said AFLAC Chairman and CEO Dan Amos.
   Among the approximately $10 million in incentives handed to the firm are worker training at Columbus Technical College, road improvements, tax credits and a grant. In addition, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce donated $1.5 million worth of land for the expansion. The company considered locations where it already has operations in New York and Nebraska, but the incentives packages did not come close to Georgia's.
   The big influx of new jobs comes as Columbus had just finished celebrating the fact that nearby Fort Benning was going to see the arrival of as many as 10,000 new soldiers and their families. Could the existence of such a potential military family labor pool — known to be a favorite of site selectors — have clinched the deal for Columbus? One can only surmise: AFLAC declined repeated requests for an interview about the site selection process.
   Like many state-line cities, Columbus also capitalizes on its proximity to Alabama and the nearby metros of Phenix City, just across the Chattahoochee River, and Auburn-Opelika.
   A week after the AFLAC announcement, Road America announced it would invest $6 million in a 25,000-sq.-ft. (2,323-sq.-m.) facility and hire 150 people in 2006, the first phase of a 450-person hiring plan over the next three years. And just before AFLAC's news, American Consumer Products Corp. announced a $7.5-million investment and up to 250 jobs at a manufacturing and distribution operation to be housed in a facility formerly belonging to MUTEC/ Panasonic.
   Scaled down but still promising is the 13,000-sq.-ft. (1,208-sq.-m.) new facility from Sterling, Va.-based Heckler & Koch Defense, which will be used for assembly and distribution of weapons for various U.S. markets. Still looking for a U.S. government assault rifle contract, the company has delayed development of the $20-million, 150,000-sq.-ft. (13,935-sq.-m.) plant it announced in 2003. However, the 200 jobs and up to $32 million connected to that incipient plant's investment plan were part of the justification for the state's April 2005 award of $300,000 in EDGE funds for the current Heckler & Koch project. The funds went toward the purchase of a former Cessna facility.
   Earlier in the year, the city was the recipient of one of the state's new centers of excellence, when Gov. Perdue announced the creation of the Information Technology Innovation Center (ITIC) in Columbus. The ITIC has four member companies — AFLAC, BellSouth, Synovus and TSYS — and operates in a 20,000-sq.-ft. (1,858-sq.-m.) facility at Columbus State University. The results of its first project — centered on migration issues between old database systems and new ones — were expected near year's end. Presumably AFLAC may be able to put them to immediate use.

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