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Local economy picking up; home construction booming

By Walter Geiger The huge construction project at the site of the new high school, where the historic Graham Street building will come down this week, is in full swing but, with a burgeoning local economy, home builders are back at work with a vengeance as well. The construction of site built homes has long been a key economic indicator and that statistic had pretty much flatlined here since about 2006. Things are taking off now, however. Eight new homes are under construction at the long abandoned Needleleaf development off Cannafax Road. Knight Homes of Jonesboro is seriously eyeing building homes in the College Manor subdivision off College Drive in Barnesville and won concessions from the city council last week that lifted a front access restrictions there. That development went to seed in 2006 and has been foreclosed upon several times with not a single home built to date. In Milner, developer David Aldridge has acquired about 177 acres on McKenzie Road that is being cut into lots that have drawn heavy interest from builders, according to Milner mayor Joe Bostwick. Another subdivision in Milner is seeing new growth as are developments on Liberty Hill and Barnesville roads and Hwy. 36 West. ’This is excellent news for us. We don’t have any new homes in the inventory unless they are custom built. This is a good sign. Homes that do go on the market are selling very fast. This will drive retail as well,’ noted Kathy Oxford, executive director of the IDA. ’We can’t go north. We can’t go east or west so we’ve got to come south,’ is how one investor described the situation to Barnesville city manager David Rose who has been busy fielding inquiries from developers. ’It is definitely coming our way. We have people looking at infill lots in the city and are seeing an increase in investors looking at property,’ Rose said. County administrator Bob Zellner feels Milner will see the first burst of development. ‘I think it will grow there before the rest of the county. There is a lot of interest there. We also have a lot of interest in permitting the relocated Aldora Village homes. The problem there is they are too small to go in an agricultural-residential zone without a variance,’ Zellner said. Southern Rivers Energy is seeing growth as well. ‘Most older subdivisions that had a few lots left are being built out or soon will be. Those subdivisions that were started but sat dormant over the past decade are now in full swing. Most of the houses are sold before construction is complete,’ engineering services supervisor Rob Hall reported. United Bank president Robbie Tenney noted land prices here are going up but have not returned to anything near the peak values they reached just before the fall in 2007. ’We are seeing more and more construction here but it is increasing more rapidly in our markets in Butts, Henry, Morgan and Coweta counties. I am sure the flight from the metro areas will reach us but at a slower pace than the counties north of us and that is not always a bad thing,’ Tenney said. He cited the high school project and expansion at Aldora Mills as key factors and aesthetic makeovers like the downtown streetscaping as instrumental in the increased interest. ’We are seeing commercial growth around the bypass but I continue to be amazed by the activity downtown especially in the evening. I often hear how appealing our downtown and the new Summers Field Park are. I commend Peter Banks and Kenny Roberts for their vision on those projects,’ Tenney added. With the O’Reilly Auto Parts store under construction on Veterans Parkway and a deal for a Speedway/Burger King complex at the site of the old Williams Funeral Home in Rose Avenue brewing, commercial and retail growth are also on the near horizon. Rose has had many contacts from developers regarding available properties along the four-lane and the IDA office has been busy as well. ’Our industrial buildings that are available are getting a lot of attention. This is coming more from regional companies considering getting out of the metro area. We’ve got a lot of people around kicking the tires, Oxford noted. All of these are good indicators of good positive growth but there is caution. Davis noted the threat of a tariff-sparked trade war as a danger. ‘We are always the last to go into a recession and the last to fully come out of it,’ added Zellner. Still, more good local jobs and more homes in the inventory are positive steps. ’I want to see folks who moved away after high school or college come back here to work and for us to have the good jobs we need to attract them. I want to see those who commute to Norcross and places like that every day to come home and be able to work right here where they enjoy living,’ Oxford said. ’Reasonable housing costs and mortgage rates still at 1960s level make for very affordable living here. It is also a great community in which to do business. More and more people are beginning to discover what we already know – that Barnesville-Lamar County is a very special place full of very special people,’ Tenney concluded.

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