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Bulloch leaders and community come together discuss future

Morris Bank hosted a business symposium luncheon on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at the Homebuilders of Statesboro building to discuss Bulloch's future.
Community leaders gather to discuss community growth Credit: Grice Connect

Morris Bank hosted a business symposium luncheon on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at the Homebuilders of Statesboro building to discuss Bulloch's future. The meeting brought together a panel of local leaders, who took questions from the standing room only audience. about the incredible growth coming to Bulloch County.

"This lunch and learn symposium was designed to provide an opportunity for our customers and business leaders to hear directly from key industry leaders about the growth that is happening in Bulloch County. Along with the projected growth that will be coming that has been announced over the past twelve months," said John Roach, Morris Bank Market President.

L-R: Benjy Thompson, Stuart Gregory, Dr. Kyle Marrero, Lori Durden, Charles Wilson and Stephen Pennington

The panel consisted of:

  • Benjy Thompson, CEO, Development Authority of Bulloch County
  • Stephen Pennington, CEO, East Georgia Regional Hospital
  • Stuart Gregory, Director of Development, Bulloch Solutions
  • Dr. Kyle Marrero, President, Georgia Southern University
  • Lori Durden, President, Ogeechee Technical Institute
  • Charles Wilson, Superintendent, Bulloch County Schools

Full video of the symposium

Each panelist responded to questions regarding from the audience on their area of expertise. Below are highlights of responses from questions to the presenters.

Development Authority of Bulloch County

The first questions were directed to Benjy Thompson regarding what areas of the county would be impacted the most by the growth.

Thompson responded that because of the infrastructure investments made by the City and the County down Hwy. 301 South this corridor is especially attractive to industrial prospects.

The most attractive areas of residential growth is the southern end of the county due to the proximity to Hyundai and feeder industries. The City of Statesboro will see growth, especially in condos and townhouses, for newcomers who want to live in more of an urban center.

Thompson reminded attendees that Statesboro was also his home and it was important to manage the growth in a responsible way that will only enhance the wonderful quality of life we now enjoy. It is also important the we as a community come together to accept that this rapid growth that is coming and prepare for it the best way we can.

Since the Hyundai plant was announced the Development Authority of Bulloch County has hosted Korean prospects every week. Of the three largest Hyundai suppliers announced, Bulloch County has already landed two.

Thompson also addressed rising labor costs. When this type of growth comes, with a limited supply of labor and high demand for the labor, labor cost will rise. The benefit of this however is a higher standard of living for the community. Regardless, they understand this is a huge concern and challenge for existing employers. To help address this, the Development Authority has joined the JDA Regional Workforce Study and Comprehensive Strategic Plan.

Standing room only audience attended the symposium

Bulloch Solutions

Having the technological capacity to handle the broadband growth is tremendously important. Not only in providing the large amount of broadband capacity the new industries will need, but also providing the band width to handle the residential growth is very important. Stuart Gregory, Director of Development for Bulloch Solutions explained how Bulloch Solutions led the nation in their countywide fiber expansion. These decisions have placed their company in a great position to manage this growth.

Their plant is built to increase 10 times the current capacity. Currently they are purchasing about 100 gig capacity and peak demand is only 42 gig. With this they could double their capacity then increase it ten more times simply by buying more access.

Georgia Southern University

Dr. Kyle Marrero, President of GS followed up on the employer labor challenges. GS currently employees nearly 3,000. 50% of their labor force make less than $60,000 per year, which several of the new companies entering the market have said will be their starting salary target.

Dr. Marrero reminded the audience that he was President of University of West Georgia when Kia opened a plant in their service area. He discussed how meeting the initial labor force demand for the Kia and subsidiary plants was not as difficult as sustaining the labor pool. That presents a greater long term challenge.

Having the only Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Program in the state along with a full array of engineering degrees, to logistics and business programs positions GS graduates to take full advantage of the opportunities' presented by this growth.

Other areas of strength for GS Dr. Marrero pointed out:

  • In education, 50% of the educators in the five county region are GS graduates
  • In health professions, 1 out of every 5 graduates are a GS graduate

Dr. Marrero has been encouraged by the high interest in individuals with a four year degree by recruiters for Hyundai. This was much different than what he saw with the Kia plant build up.

Ogeechee Technical College

Lori Durden, President of Ogeechee Technical College responded to a question regarding their position to provide manufacturing labor. She explained that OTC has been working to provide labor to existing and new manufacturers in the region for years. They are well prepared to provide the level of instruction that these new industries will need. The larger question she said is are we prepared to provide labor for every segment of the community which will also see exponential growth and the answer is yes. With a 99% placement rate, they have the programs in place that are providing high demand labor. They simply need more students to enroll at OTC to meet the growing demand.

One area of critical need for students is the Industrial Maintenance program. A large part of this labor force is aging out. These graduates play an important role in keeping the manufacturing facilities operating.

Health professions is another key area that sees high interest from students and equally high demand from employers. They are working to put in place an LPN to ASN bridge program to help meet the needs of the community.

They are also working to introduce an EV maintenance program to provide technicians to work on the future EV's.

Bulloch County Schools

Charles Wilson, Superintendent of Bulloch County Schools said they are preparing for growth like they have never seen before, especially on the south end of the county.

The school system traditionally plans for 1/2% to 2% growth annually. They are seeing projections that the growth in the next few years could be 8% to 15%. He was asked specifically if the plans to expand SEB Elementary,Middle and High will be enough to manage the projected growth.

Wilson said the goal with the current SEB plan was to manage growth with the minimal amount of capital outlay. That plan which they thought would manage growth for at least 10 years has now become probably about a five year plan.

The SEB expansion has now become a short term component of a much larger plan.

They are projecting the need for one very large high school or two decently large high schools in the south end of the county, not to mention twice as many elementary schools and possible another middle school in the next ten to fifteen years.

There want be enough money to address these growth problems fast enough he said. Unfortunately mobile classrooms will have to be part of the early solutions because of the projected speed of this growth.

East Georgia Regional Medical Center

Stephen Pennington, CEO of EGRMC was asked how EGRMC was preparing to manage this growth from facility expansions to increasing specialty care. He said they are continuing to expand services and capacity at the hospital.

They have recently recruited two new surgeons which are using the Davinci Robot to do complicated surgeries that were not recently available at the hospital. In the month of December they had the most surgeries using the Davinci Robot in the history of the introduction of this technology at the hospital.

Summit Medical Oncology has located in their Medical Office Building and is providing expanded services to cancer patients that was not recently available in Statesboro.

As for expanding the facility, Pennington said that unfortunately since he has been CEO they have not been able to fully staff the beds that they have in place. They have been working hard to recruit nurses and medical professionals to increase bed capacity at the hospital.

They have worked with GS and OTC to increase the number of interns inside the hospital. Their hope is that this will be a pathway for long term employment for many of these students.

Roach thanks leaders for their participation

"I want to thank these busy industry leaders to take their time to come meet with our community leaders. This goes above and beyond their responsibilities. I want to thank the City and County for their vision and investment from infrastructure to land purchases that have positioned Bulloch County to take advantage of this growth." said Roach. "I also want to recognize and thank the Chamber of Commerce for the important work they do for our community as well."