MOULTRIE -- When one door closes, another opens.

With that little seed of optimism, the Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority looks to face an uncertain future for the county after the shutdown of Ball Metal Beverage Container Plant.

Georgia is losing jobs, Authority Executive Director Darrell Moore said. The two-decade employment boom is reaching an end.

"Everyone's getting hit," he said. "It's just like Ball. They're running well, the employees are doing the best that they can, management's doing the best they can, but sales just aren't there."

The turn of the economy is leading the authority to turn its attention back to existing local industry to keep those operations from going the way of Ball while still trying to remain vigilant for any bites on the development line.

The authority is hoping that Ball will offer it an option to purchase the facility so it can rein back a little control over the county's economic destiny. Otherwise, Ball may not sell to competing companies that may be interested in the factory.

"We're not going to go out and try to find another canning plant ..., but if someone looks, I'd like to have that option available," Moore said. "The main thing that we want to do is just to get another manufacturer in there -- something that will employ (many) people and have good jobs."

Moore thinks that OneGeorgia funding and federal money would be available for any out-of-state manufacturer that would open a facility in Georgia.

Currently, the development authority is showing a manufacturer of 16-ounce plastic beverage containers the Sangamon building in the Industrial Park, among other sites. Other prospects now taking a look at Colquitt County are companies looking to open distribution centers that would employ 10 to 15 people each.

"We just want good manufacturing jobs," Moore said. "Those may be in food processing. Those may be plastic or cans or something like that, but we just want jobs for people in Colquitt County better than what's available right now. We want to try to increase our average in per capita income."

The last official numbers (which still account for the Ball plant) reflect that 2,700 people leave the county and 1,500 come to Colquitt County to work. Those out-of-town jobs are likely higher paying jobs, Moore said.

"We would do more for a business having a 100 people paying $12 an hour versus one employing 300 people at minimum wage, because we want better paying jobs," he said. "We will work with (businesses) with lower-paying jobs, but we're not going to be as aggressive trying to get them to come to Colquitt County."

After Ball ends production in mid-December, the 158,000-square-foot facility with 40-foot eaves will be cleared of equipment and what minor renovations needed will be done before the building goes up for sale, he said.

The 98-acre property where Ball sits has ample space to put in another facility of comparable size, but it's not large enough for the $5 million industrial park developers are hoping to build with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money that voters recently approved, Moore said. The authority is looking for a 300- to 500-acre site for the county's new industrial park, he said.

Already, developers have researched 16 properties. Some stand out as very poor options, but none stand out as really great for industrial development purposes, Moore said.

So the challenge stands, but there's no hurry.

"We don't have anything I'm really excited about. ... We want to make a good decision for the community. Because it's a substantial investment, we want to make sure to do the right thing. ... I think that everyone wants to make sure we get a good site that we can live with and we can market to help Moultrie and Colquitt County grow for the next 10 years," he said.

Manufacturers want to be located close to Atlanta, Moore explained, but they tend to gravitate toward South Alabama rather than South Georgia for some unapparent reason. Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism for the past couple of years has

been trying to shift the attention south from metro-Atlanta.

-- By Lori Glenn

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