Valdosta Daily Times

September 2, 2012

Examining Economic Health: How Does Valdosta Check Out?

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A city’s economic health depends on a variety of factors. Aside from a sustained population, businesses that locate within a city’s limits are one of the single most important influences to a thriving economy.

Where there is business, there are jobs, and where there are jobs, there are consumers and, in turn, consumers contribute to the businesses which then contribute to the community through a property and sales tax base. It is a never-ending cycle that demonstrates the age-old model of supply and demand.

So what is it about Valdosta that makes it appealing when placed under the microscope by various businesses and industries which are looking to locate in Titletown USA?

For an up-and-coming Valdosta business called Chicken Salad Chick, Valdosta presented a number of positive attributes that would serve as beneficial.

“When looking for the perfect location, we, of course, look for population stats and overall market demographics,” said Julie North, a Chicken Salad Chick franchise owner.

North and her husband, Peter, are Chicken Salad Chick franchise owners in Valdosta. While Chicken Salad Chick has not yet opened in Valdosta, it is just one of 18 new franchises in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

“Currently, there are three restaurants open in Auburn, Ala.,” said Debbie Mossburg, vice president of marketing for Simply Southern Restaurant Group, the exclusive franchisor of Chicken Salad Chick. “Five franchises have been purchased for Birmingham, Ala., three for Tuscaloosa, Ala., three for Montgomery, Ala., one for Dothan, Ala., three for Columbus, Ga., one for Valdosta, and two for Tallahassee, Fla.”

As the nation’s newest, fast-casual restaurant concept that offers a variety of everyone’s idea of the perfect chicken salad, its upcoming presence in Valdosta is a demonstration of the city’s unique appeal to a variety of businesses.

“We also chose Valdosta over other locations because of it being a college town,” said North. “Besides that, we also wanted to look at areas that were growing.”

Valdosta is certainly growing, which is why a number of new businesses — such as the Olive Garden, Gander Mountain and Academy Sports — have begun popping up this year. Aside from the appeal of an Air Force base, the town’s three higher-education institutions — Valdosta State University, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College and Georgia Military College — offer an appeal.

At a reception for the newest members of the Ben Copeland Leadership Giving Club on Thursday at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Ben Copeland spoke of the importance of higher education’s presence in attracting industries to the area.

“Developing our work force, there isn’t anything more important than that right now,” said Copeland, representative of the first congressional district on the State Board for the Technical College System of Georgia.

Copeland said a city isn’t going to attract industry unless it has a well-trained work force. Realistically, there is almost no better appeal for an industry than a well-trained work force that contributes to the needs of a business and contributes to a city’s economic health by being an employed consumer.

Just as it was for Chicken Salad Chick, a business within close proximity to VSU is like striking gold twice because you have the potential of a never-ending stream of labor and consumers.

Outside of population and institutions of higher learning, Valdosta Regional Airport provides another asset for industries looking to locate in Valdosta.

In a video accompanying a recent study released by the Georgia Department of Transportation on the economic impact of Georgia’s airports, Carol Comer, the director of intermodal programs, said that “an airport might not be the reason a business will choose to locate in a particular area, but it could be the reason why it doesn’t.”

Valdosta Regional Airport manager Jim Galloway conveys this message from the film. “Not only an airport, but an airport with a control tower was a requirement for a business that built a new plant here in the past few years,” said Galloway.

Additionally, the airport has partnered with the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority on information presented to business and industry prospects.

“The airport is an important aspect of the information provided,” said Galloway.

Galloway even recalled one prospect that stipulated the prerequisite length of the runway.

“Having a commercial airline service is also a big plus for companies looking to locate here,” said Galloway. “While we would all like to see more flights and another destination, airline service is something that only eight other airports in Georgia have out of the 104 airports total.”

Ultimately, the pattern of industry location seems to follow the rule of if you build it, they will come. The more businesses that come to Valdosta and thrive, the more appeal the city has for a prime industrial location.

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