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April 10, 2014

Hamilton: Rhett Bullard gives update on economic development

Jasper — Rhett Bullard from the Hamilton County Economic Development Authority (HCDA) gave an update on current projects to the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners at their April 1 meeting.

Prior to Bullard’s statements, resident Bob Burton, during open comments from the public, stated  he was working on bringing in a company that would offer about 200 “really good jobs.”

“I have two more sitting right behind them,” said Burton. “These companies aren’t associated with Associated Industries of Florida, ICMA, FLCCMA...any of those companies, so we’re getting a little bit of resistance, and it’s starting to get a political tinge to it where I think some of the things are inappropriate,” he added.

Burton urged the board and the public to start contacting their state representative and members of the HCDA and encourage them to bring in the jobs that he has been trying to recruit.

Bullard, speaking on behalf of Executive Director Susan Ramsey, who was unable to attend the meeting, passed out copies of an article that ran in Florida Trend Magazine that was submitted by the HCDA.

“It kind of gives a little highlight on the things that are being promoted in terms of getting information out to the public, to site consultants and the different corporate entities to let them know things that are available here in the county for them to use if they choose,” said Bullard.

Aside from the picturesque rivers, outdoor recreational activities and fertile farmlands in the county, other items mentioned in the article tout the county as having a large and available workforce, plenty of shovel-ready industrial land, warehouse space, and two industrial parks that have water and sewer available.

Start-ups are receiving assistance, the article continued, and a firm called Florida PG Industries has developed a proprietary process to utilize phosphogypsum tailings, which have accumulated in Hamilton County over the years, to produce construction-related materials.

The article also stated that the HCDA continues to work with HERO, a solar power project, which was originally announced in 2010.

Commissioner Josh Smith asked Bullard who wrote the article and he said he didn’t know and also that the HCDA board did not review it before it went to print.

“I believe staff was involved in that, as far as what was written,” said Bullard.

“I think if I was on that board, I would certainly want to review something that’s being printed on my behalf,” said Smith. “That’s just my opinion.”

Bullard, when asked by Smith, explained that Youth Services International, who was attempting to open a 40-bed residential program for low to moderate risk boys ages 14-18 through the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ), was in attendance at their last meeting. That facility never opened due to failed negotiations between the FDJJ and the Hamilton County School District.

“The HCDA had been requested to allocate $100,000 a year for a five-year period to cover any overages for a new facility that was proposed here in the county,” said Bullard.

The matter, he said, was tabled because the day prior to the meeting, the HCDA received a letter from the FDJJ stating they were no longer pursuing the project. Bullard explained that it is not the policy of the HCDA to fund shortages from other governmental entities.

Commissioner Buster Oxendine said he thought that any time there is an opportunity to bring 43 jobs into the county, it should most definitely go before the HCDA to consider.

Bullard explained there were legalities involved and that there is a Florida Statute that does not allow the FDJJ to charge the school district for overages.

“Either way, it boils down to we lost an opportunity to have 43 paychecks put into the county, whichever way it goes,” said Smith.

Other HCDA projects, Bullard said, he couldn’t discuss due to confidentiality.

Commissioner Beth Burnam expressed her desire to attend a two-day expo at North Florida Economic Development Academy in Palatka in May and invited the other commissioners to attend.

“I want to know what’s out there,” Burnam said. “I want to network with some of these other development authorities and see how they cooperate with all of their agencies. I just want to know what our options are.”

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