We wanted to get a feel for what our elected leaders see for our future as they look into the crystal ball for 2010. We asked state Sen. Jack Hill, Effingham Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry, incoming Springfield Mayor Jeff Northway of Springfield, Mayor Ken Lee of Rincon and Mayor Michael Garvin of Guyton to share their thoughts as they look ahead.
Sen. Jack Hill
"The thing that’s most positive of all is, it’s not a year ago. We are all just expecting things to start getting better this year. The economists, who don’t predict much to happen until the end of this coming calendar year, maybe they’re going to be wrong. They’ve been wrong so far — they missed an entire recession three months at a time.
“I’m optimistic that things are going to be moving in the right direction so we’ll see better times ahead. The thing that we need the most recovery for is home building, construction and hopefully, we’ve hit the bottom on foreclosure. I don’t know. That’s probably the one area we’re all going to be looking at and hoping that things do turn around, sooner rather than later.
“A depressed home market was amplified 100 times by the foreclosures, which further depressed the market. Sooner or later it’s going to depress the property tax, so they should go down. There’s going to be a big fight about that. County officials in some cases have ignored state law and revenue hasn’t shown much backbone in backing up the state law, so there’s going to be some further clarification of what the law really says. There will be more to be said about that issue.
“Nationally, holiday sales were very strong — that’s the first part of one of the Christmas wishes was that we’d have a good holiday season. We’re hopeful. If the sales tax starts to turn the corner and starts to come back, that helps both local government and state government. I think people are beginning to be more hopeful about the future and I’m glad to see that.”
John Henry, IDA
“I believe that as we start to feel a little more like we are in a recovery, about mid-2010 many companies that have been waiting in the sidelines to expand their operations will once again be comfortable enough to start investing once more. There appears to be a backlog of companies that have fared pretty well over the recession that are still facing financing issues due to tighter credit markets. We still have many ‘pending’ projects, some that have been active for well over a year. We may see the industrial market begin to move pretty rapidly in 2010. The caveat is that there are still many unknowns, among them the inflationary fears brought about by the massive debt load that the country has recently incurred.
“On the home front, I believe that residential development will inch up slowly in the area, but will not attain the high volumes that we saw in the 2005 to 2007 era. A ‘full recovery’ will probably mean something along the lines of 50 to 75 percent of the previous highs. The credit markets are going to be much tighter, qualifications for new loans will be tougher and real estate speculation will be riskier.
“Commercial development should continue to trickle into the community as supply seeks to meet demand. The new Harvey’s in Springfield appeared to be a gamble that won big and I believe that others will follow that lead.
“We hope to have some new industries on the ground in 2010. However, the economic development game has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. Companies now expect communities to help with capital cost avoidance on the front end. This will mean having pad ready sites as opposed to greenfield sites, ample infrastructure from day one, reduced land costs and other incentives. There are many communities out there right now with very high unemployment rates that are very eager to attract new industry. Competing head to head against desperate communities throughout the nation is going to be tougher. Our great location, access to markets, along with proximity to the ports and interstates will be our best attributes, but we will be expected to match the offers of other communities.
“We can look around us and see what happens when a community becomes too reliant upon one or two industries. Our best approach in 2010 will be to seek some diversification while continuing to work to attract major new recession-resistant industries such as those in the energy sector.
“All in all, 2010 promises to be much better than 2009. Let’s not forget that 2009 was not that terrible of a year for industry in Effingham County. EFACEC Power Transformers has moved into their new building and the best looking thing about the project is the full parking lot. Hopefully, this will be only the first of many new projects of this type.”
Mayor Jeff Northway
“Actually, what I’m looking for this year as a positive outlook for Springfield is, I’m of course, looking at the continuation of the Mars Theatre through the SRC. And I’m also looking at our streetscape project for downtown Springfield, which should be getting started in June of 2010. I’m also real excited with the new Harvey’s grocery store and some new businesses that are in town now.
“With the addition of the Parker’s convenience store next to Harvey’s, and I’m also looking at the new storage facility that’s going in on Laurel Street at the old Massey Ferguson dealership. And in general, I’m looking at working with the city council that has a positive attitude towards Springfield to keep that going in the right direction; making our lives quality lives for the citizens of Springfield. We’re also looking at just keeping our monies in order through the hard times we’re having as a nation, as well as a county, and keeping our priorities straight. I feel like the city’s going in the right direction.”
Mayor Ken Lee
"We’re wrapping up some of the things that we’ve been working on for the last four years, primarily in our water issues. The tying in to the surface water line is almost complete. We’re now in the process of completing the purchase of the golf course, which accomplishes our re-use needs and requirements by the EPD. I think this year probably the biggest thing that I would hope to see us accomplish will be on recreation. And some of the things that would enhance our city as far as appearance, the Gateway project, for example. That will be implemented the first half of the year and I think that’ll make our city much more attractive as you enter it.
“Those are the kinds of things we’ll be able to do this year that we’ve wanted to do for so long, So having that kind of out of the way (water issues), we hope at least somewhat for a while, I think we can focus on some of the things that will be a great benefit to the citizens in the way of recreation and added features to the city that’ll make it better for all of us. Looking forward to being able to do that this year.”
Mayor Michael Garvin
“I just hope things just end up being better than they ended up this year. The economy got kind of bad; things got slowed down. We look down the road; we hope all things are good. We’re working; we’re trying to resolve the wastewater issues. I hope next year doesn’t catch us still trying to do that. As you know, we’ve got that T-GAP grant project that’s going on — that’s going pretty good. Looks like it’s going to be a pretty positive outcome with that grant project. But I guess the biggest issue that we face going in to next year will be the water-sewer issue.”