Caterpillar plant construction to start in early March

//Caterpillar plant construction to start in early March

Caterpillar plant construction to start in early March

Caterpillar could break ground on its new Athens plant in as little as two weeks.

Land planner Jon Williams said he submitted plans for the 1.2-million-square-foot factory Friday afternoon, just hours after officials announced that Athens had landed the company.

The Athens-Clarke and Oconee governments should approve the plans by March 5, Williams said, and Caterpillar could start clearing the land as soon as the following day.

“Everything is on a fast track as far as they’re concerned,” Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis said.

The company hopes to finish the plant by the end of the year, officials said.

Caterpillar’s plans meet both counties’ zoning codes, Davis said. In the future, though, both counties plan to put an overlay district on the Orkin tract so the codes never conflict, he said.

After a whirlwind two-month effort to land Caterpillar and its 1,400 jobs, about 100 local business and political leaders took a short breather Monday.

They toasted their success at an Athens Area Chamber of Commerce celebration after winning what will become the largest private employer in Athens and the biggest economic development in Georgia since Kia in 2006.

“It was positively historic; a tremendous, tremendous day; something none of us will ever forget,” chamber Chairman Brian Brodrick said of Friday’s announcement.

But much work is still left to be done. Roads need to be built on the site — about 260 acres of the 920-acre Orkin tract, an industrial parcel between U.S. Highway 78 and Georgia Highway 316. Utility lines must be extended onto the property. More detailed plans are waiting to be drawn up.

Then there are the 25 to 30 suppliers who will follow Caterpillar to Athens, bringing another 2,800 jobs with them. Many of them will want to locate at the Orkin tract as well, said Gerry and Grant Whitworth, the father-and-son real estate team who represent the property for the Orkin family.

To expedite approval, officials from both Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties named Wayne Provost, director of the Oconee Strategic and Long-Range Planning Department, as the single point of contact for Caterpillar.

It was just another example of the spirit of cooperation that’s recently come over officials in both counties. While Davis and former Athens-Clarke Mayor Heidi Davison collaborated to try to woo vaccine manufacturer Novartis in 2006, and the Athens-Clarke Commission supported a permanent economic development partnership that grew out of that effort, the Oconee County Commission rejected it.

This time, the economic development departments, industrial development authorities, school districts, county commissions and other institutions all read from the same hymnbook.

“Every player in the process performed their function perfectly,” Mayor Nancy Denson said.

The result is a $200 million plant on an industrial parcel that’s been marketed unsuccessfully to manufacturers for more than 30 years.

Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Doc Eldridge said last week that Athens was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

“We’re the bride and the groom on this project, and we’ll be joined at the hip forevermore,” he said Monday.

Source: Online Athens