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Covington offering industry incentives

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council approved numerous incentives for an existing industry looking to expand at a special called meeting Monday evening.

The identity of the industry is being withheld and was discussed under the code name Project Dove.

The industry currently exists locally and would be moving into and expanding an existing building. The exact location of the site was not disclosed, but during the meeting, it was stated that the industry had concerns about traffic on Ga. Hwy. 142, and the DOT has been consulted and believes the road can handle the additional traffic and needed adjustments can be made.

The project is a "solid investment" of almost $20 million, according to Roger Harrison, vice president of economic development for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. There will be 900 employees on site from day one and 600 jobs are expected to be available over the course of 10 years through attrition, according to Harrison. He said he could not elaborate further, citing the competitive nature of negotiations. Harrison said the industry is in advanced manufacturing and pays an above average salary for the community. The targeted site and expansion will be about 225,000 square feet and will involve a 15-year lease.

There is possibly competition in neighboring Rockdale County and the city of Conyers, as reference was made during the meeting to Covington's stormwater rates compared to the competition as being slightly higher than Rockdale and lower than Conyers.

A decision on where to expand is expected to be made by the company on Nov. 1, Harrison said, and the operation would be up and running by early to mid-spring.

"If you want to be aggressive, now's the time because I don't know if we'll have the chance to come back," he told city officials.

Ultimately, the council unanimously consented to offering a 20 percent discount for two years on electricity, amounting to a savings of between $2,600 and $4,600 per month for the industry; a 20 percent discount on stormwater fees for two years; the waiving of water and sewer tap fees; and the waiving of permit and inspection fees, amounting to an estimated $21,552.

Also, the council agreed to offer natural gas rates to the industry at the regular rate minus the added "hedge" that is passed on to customers.

A hedge is a financial instrument to place constraints on the price of a commodity, and is typically used when prices are unstable or prone to extreme increases, as was the price of natural gas a few years ago, said Bill Meecham, the city's utilities director.

"If you are buying a product for resale to others, this "premium" becomes part of your wholesale cost and is passed on. The hedges established for gas purchases reflected the gas needs of our customer base at the time when they were acquired," Meecham said.

While the city is competitive with residential and medium-sized and large industries using interruptible gas, rates for large customers with fixed rates "are at this time not what we'd like," he said.

Harrison said natural gas rates are a sticking point in negotiations with the industry in question, as there are more competitive rates elsewhere. The council agreed to offer the regular rate without the hedge for a year.

City Manager Steve Horton said that while the discounted electric rate will result in reduced revenue for the city, leaving off the hedge for natural gas would not affect the city's bottom line. The city will buy additional gas for Project Dove above the amount of gas for which the hedges applied.

The council also agreed to leave it to the city manager's and utilities director's discretion on whether to offer a discount on the lease for lights for the parking area.

Harrison said there are four prospects, including Project Dove, looking at Newton and set to make decisions within the next few months.

It's projects like these and Baxter that will turn around the local housing market, he said, and bring retail and restaurants. "We have to get these first before retail and restaurants come," he said.