Friday, December 05, 2008

Davison on NBAF

Some thoughts from Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison on NBAF heading to Kansas via some questions I sent to her ...

What does this mean for the future of our development efforts in the biosciences?
I hope we will continue to pursue biosciences in our economic development recruitment pursuits. To not take advantage and leverage the assets at the University of Georgia, as part of an economic development plan, would be foolish. One aspect many folks have not discussed, although I mentioned it on many occasions and will continue to do so, is that UGA is training future scientists and Athens Tech is training lab technicians. These individuals need jobs, too, and employment opportunities should be sought for them, as well, allowing them to remain in Athens as opposed to leaving the community to find work. Athens has a significant problem with underemployment that must be addressed and one way to do that is to attract jobs to meet a wide variety of skill and interest levels.

The memo noted that FAQ played a role, albeit a minor one. Do you think that was a key factor?
Every community experienced opposition from a group of citizens, as one would expect. So, it's hard to say whether the opposition here was stronger or a key factor. I don't think we'll ever really know the answer. Community acceptance was a requirement from the outset, as stated in the RFP, and based on the draft memo Athens received a 'yellow', which I interpret to mean a mid-point along a spectrum devised by DHS. Given that, my guess is that other factors weighed more heavily.

Kansas largely received the site due its incentive package, which dwarfed ours. Do you think Georgia could have done more to land this project?
I suspect that given the very strong comments, early on, from DHS that they were looking for free land and other incentives to minimize costs, Kansas' package was just too strong to pass up. The KS Governor continued sweetening the pot until it finally reached four times what Georgia and some others were offering. Hard to pass up when many other factors are equal. I wonder what the state spent on the KIA or Daimler Chrysler projects versus what they offered for NBAF. My sense is there is a disconnect between stated support for the biosciences and the resources put into attracting these type of investments to the state.

Items noted by me were the lack of integration among the various sectors of the scientific community and the strong focus on poultry science. These are the topics I would like to discuss more fully with Dr. Lee as we move forward.

I also think it's important to note the initial group of potential sites was 17, narrowed down to 5, with UGA landing in that latter group. Only a strong proposal would have survived that scrutiny so hat's off to Dr. Lee and UGA. This project also pulled together, in a very thoughtful and coordinated way, a team we have not seen before in our economic development efforts. Although one would argue, and I would agree, it's time we see more of this type collaboration but that's another discussion. This has created an excellent foundation upon which we can build a stronger model for pursuing the kinds of projects to satisfy the employment needs noted earlier.


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