Industrial Authority goes solar, broadband, and conversational!

The Industrial Authority apparently listened to its focus groups, and discovered that broadband and solar energy are important to attract industry. Andrea Schruijer even recommends conversation, which has been sorely lacking in recent years. Congratulations, Industrial Authority!

Jason Schaefer wrote for the VDT today, Authority analyzes Valdosta business: Broadband, solar power, professional services targeted for growth,

The Authority also plans to work toward the availability of more broadband Internet service and solar power in Valdosta and surrounding communities. These amenities would help support local industries as well as draw new ones to the greater Valdosta area for the creation of new jobs.

That’s a good start. Although it’s not clear from the writeup that VLCIA quite got it about Internet access.

As part of presenting Valdosta as an attractive package for prospective industries, the Authority attempts to ready the land set aside for development before beginning the recruitment process. This means investing in infrastructure, including broadband internet.

“It’s not that we don’t have broadband,” Schruijer said. “What we’re looking at is the technology behind the broadband. We have it in certain areas, but in order for us to grow some of these core targets, such as professional services, we need that infrastructure.”

Well, actually, no, we don’t have broadband. 6Mbps is the fastest most people can get around here, and 30Mbps is the slowest you can even buy in many countries. Plus, it’s not just fast Internet to industrial sites that’s needed: it’s fast Internet access everywhere knowledge-based employees may want to live.

But they’re on the right track:

Because the Authority can’t “buy” industries into coming to Valdosta—though it can offer tax abatements—it is necessary to make sure that new businesses have what they will need before ground is even broken, Schruijer said. To this effect, the Authority will “stimulate the conversation” to actively attract more broadband companies to the area.

A conversation! Now there’s something we’ve been needing around here. And it’s a refreshing change from only a year ago when all we heard was

“Debate is not allowed.”

Maybe the Industrial Authority will be the organization that will show the rest of us how to hold civil discussions about things that affect all of us!

The VDT’s writeup skips quickly over another big change:

An investment in solar energy—a plant as well as the manufacturing of parts to build it—could bring jobs to Valdosta as well, Schruijer said.

From hints they’ve been dropping in their last two board meetings, and from their attempts to get clear title to the former biomass site next to the present solar field, there may be more to it than that. We’ll see.

And this is also a sizeable change in strategy:

The sub-category of “professional services” joins the target areas of logistics and advanced manufacturing which the Authority has already targeted as an opportunity for growth. This category includes sub-areas such as computer systems design and management, architectural and engineering services, administrative support services and advertising and public relations services.

This is all a huge change from less than two years ago when I asked about house refitting for insulation and efficiency, as well as rooftop solar, and was told:

“That really would be the city… we’re industrial development.”

That was a very limited interpretation of VLCIA’s charter, the 1960 Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority Act, which actually names a number of other things VLCIA should do, including:

4.F. To encourage and promote the expansion of industry, agriculture, trade, commerce and recreation in the City of Valdosta, County of Lowndes, and to make long-range plans therefor.

As Dr. William Fuller reminded the Lowndes County Commission, that Act concludes:

This act, being for the purpose of developing and promoting the public good and the welfare of the County of Lowndes and the City of Valdosta and their inhabitants, shall be liberally construed to effect the purposes hereof.

I’d still like to see the Industrial Authority explicitly take stewardship of water and air and other resources into account, like Ben Copeland recommended, in its developing and promotion of the public good and the general welfare. But let’s congratulate them for turning in the right general direction!

How did this happen?

Maybe it took a whole bunch of us nagging them; here’s Dr. Noll asking them for cooperation with the citizens.

Maybe it took repeated anti-biomass demonstrations.

Maybe it took letters to the editor.

Maybe it took the VDT turning against them.

Maybe it took another series of protests starting up against the private prison.

Maybe it took Ashley Paulk pointing out they were lying out in the road in front of the anti-biomass bus and that the private prison was like the biomass plant in that neither one had a business plan. (I’m not making any attempt here to name everyone, since so many people have and are participating, and any list would omit someone. Feel free to add whoever you like in comments.)

Or maybe community activism had nothing to do with it. (OK, that one still makes me laugh.)

Maybe it took Brad Lofton lighting out for South Carolina before even telling his then-current employers, VLCIA.

Maybe it took Roy Copeland being elected Chairman. Maybe Andrea Schruijer took one look at this place and recognized her opportunity. I don’t know.

Hey, maybe it was all of the above and more? Maybe it was the community starting to act together!

Whatever it was, I congratulate VLCIA on all these very encouraging new developments.