Southwest Georgia: A Region on Radar

Agriculture has defined and dominated Southwest Georgia’s economic landscape for generations. Whether owning or working on farms or some other ag-adjacent industry, nearly everyone in the region has a financial connection to the land. And as an industry, agriculture remains a massive statewide economic driver.

Major Commitment: Rick McCaskill, head of the Development Authority of Bainbridge and Decatur County at the Bainbridge Downrange Industrial Park, in front of future site of Anovion; photo David Parks.

In 2021, food and fiber production and related processing industries directly represented a value of nearly $14.7 billion to Georgia’s economy, according to a report produced by the University of Georgia’s Center for Agriculture and Economic Development. The report cites data provided by the 2021 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, a yearly, county-level economic valuation for all state food and fiber production.

Equally important, the report states that these commodities represent $73.2 billion in output to Georgia’s economy and 340,837 jobs to industries in the agricultural supply chain in 2021 beyond their farm gate value – the price of farm produce purchased directly from the producer without markup.

Regionally, Southwest Georgia counties have a lock on some of the top nationally ranked commodities in total production. The state ranks No. 1 in total peanut and pecan production; No. 2 in cotton lint, cotton seed and watermelon; and No. 3 in blueberries and cantaloupe. In 2021, more than half of the nation’s peanuts were grown in Southwest Georgia. And cotton, grown extensively in the region, ranks first in production value in Georgia and second in the nation.

But for all its economic and cultural hold on Southwest Georgia, agriculture is far from the region’s biggest economic development story of 2023. Headline-grabbing Anovion Technologies, an electric vehicle (EV) battery materials manufacturer, seized that title with the announcement it will invest $800 million and create 400 jobs in Decatur County. The new 1.5 million-square-foot manufacturing facility being built at the county-owned Downrange Industrial Park will produce high-quality synthetic graphite anode, a material critical in the EV battery supply chain.

“We put $50 million into the park’s infrastructure,” says Rick McCaskill, head of the Development Authority of Bainbridge and Decatur County. “It was a major commitment. Everybody in the state was shocked when they chose Bainbridge because [the company] was looking at 38 states.”

A Regional Approach

So why Decatur County?

Anovion selected the Southwest Georgia location because of its proximity to existing and planned low- and carbon-free energy sources for power, short supply chains, access to existing rail infrastructure, a skilled workforce and a business-friendly environment. But it wasn’t until late in the site selection process that Decatur County hit Anovion’s radar.

“We wouldn’t have had a shot at it if not for the Locate South Georgia bus tour,” says McCaskill.

$800 Million Investment: Anovion Technologies’ groundbreaking attendees included U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (fourth from left), Gov. Brian Kemp (center right) and Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp; photo contributed.

Decatur County is a member of Locate South Georgia, a regional economic development entity comprised of 22 counties, many in Southwest Georgia. The group offers an annual bus tour covering a portion of the more than 10,000-square-mile region it serves, which provides project managers with a firsthand look at some of the sites and buildings on offer.

In November 2022, the Locate South Georgia tour included Decatur County. When a Georgia Department of Economic Development project manager saw the site, he thought it might be a fit for the Anovion project. The request for proposal (RFP) was quickly sent and accepted, and Decatur County became Georgia’s newest member of Georgia’s EV battery ecosystem.

Even before the Anovion announcement, Locate South Georgia touted $324.5 million in new investment and 575 jobs created in 2022 among its members.

“We may be starting to see some of the beginning of EV-related spin-offs,” says Grant Buckley, executive director of the Cordele-Crisp County Industrial Development Council and chair of Locate South Georgia. “I’m hearing among my colleagues, and I have one or two inquiries as well, of maybe not Tier 1 suppliers but Tier 2 or Tier 3 suppliers. It’s all related to the EV industry.”

“We’ve talked this regional stuff for years, but we didn’t really believe it,” McCaskill says. “It was just the ‘in’ thing to do. We all knew where the county line was and knew on the other side of the line it wasn’t helping us a bit. But we’ve learned that most of these projects now are going to be regional and our economic development community has done a good job of grasping that. That regional marketing effort, by Locate South Georgia, and the mindset that all these projects help us all have been a real benefit.”

Article by Patty Rasmussen , Georgia Trend Magazine