LEESBURG — Lee County’s loss could quite possibly turn out to be Dougherty County’s gain.
Lee County businessman Bryan Bridges told The Albany Herald Wednesday morning that he has had discussions with a number of Dougherty County officials encouraging him to bring his planned Redi-Mix concrete plant to the county after Bridges’ rezoning request was tabled by the Lee County Commission at its Tuesday-night meeting. And Bridges said he’s seriously considering the invitation.
“I’m close, very close to making a decision,” Bridges, owner of the Lee County-based Bridges Backhoe Services and Small Cakes, a Cupcakery in Albany, said. “I’ve got six semi trucks loaded with the materials for the concrete plant in Charleston, South Carolina, and every hour they sit waiting is costing me money.
“(Lee County officials) have told me I could build the concrete plant, but they would not approve the rezoning request until I had a clean air certificate from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). But the EPA will not give me a certificate until the land has been rezoned for heavy industrial (I-2, from its current AG, agriculture). Basically, I’m being told to go ahead and build a $600,000 plant, and if I get the approval after it’s build, I can move forward. That’s too big a business risk. I’m in a ‘Catch-22’ situation.”
Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said she, Water, Gas & Light interim General Manager Tom Berry, WG&L and Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission board member Chad Warbington, and management-level officials with the EDC had either gotten in touch with Bridges Wednesday or had plans to contact him.
Fletcher said she reached out to Bridges when she read an Albany Herald article detailing his concerns.
“When I read that in the paper, I called Bryan immediately,” Fletcher said Wednesday. “I have a (rental) tenant who works for Bryan, and he told me about the (proposed) new plant. Then I read that story, so I called Bryan and left him a message. After our meeting last night (and the Lee County Commission meeting), Bryan called me.
“I said when I campaigned for this office that I would do everything I can to try and bring business here. I think Bryan’s concrete plant would be a great addition to Dougherty County.”
Bridges, who lives in Lee County, credits Albany attorney Chris Cohilas with initiating interest in Dougherty County as a business location.
“Chris is the major reason I started considering this,” Bridges said. “He spoke highly of opportunities in Dougherty County and was a major player in this.”
Cohilas said advocating for new business in Dougherty County should be a priority for all officials who live and work in the county.
“We should all constantly encourage businesses to consider Dougherty County and its natural resources,” Cohilas said. “We need to be casting a wide net to encourage economic development and to build our tax base. Advocating for the county cannot be a 9-to-5 job.”
Bridges said he wants to consolidate his backhoe service business with the concrete plant, a move that would generate “11 to 18 jobs.”
Bridges makes no bones that his first option is to build the concrete plant in Lee County. But he said that there comes a point when “business trumps loyalty.”
“I live in Lee County, and my children go to school in the Lee County School System,” he said. “I believe we have a very good County Commission that wants to try and look out for the people of the county. But under the position that they’ve put me in with the concrete plant, well, I’m not comfortable with that.
“I’m not singling any person out because I think the world of Lee County. But the folks in Dougherty County have contacted me and told me they’d welcome me with open arms. They’ve made it clear that if Lee County doesn’t want the jobs that (the proposed plant) will generate, they do. At some point, it becomes about the business.”