JEFF MEADORS: Charter schools could be key component in economic development

Hello, Mr. Chips! Central Georgia is hot and not just in summertime.

Bay View Food Products will locate a 120,000-square-foot Mr. Chips Inc. processing plant in my hometown of Macon as Georgia’s red clay has developers and property owners seeing gold, green, and, well — pickles.

Bay View will dump millions in investments in pickle processing in Macon adding 50 jobs to the central region just as Flambeau, a plastic products manufacturer and supplier to Caterpillar’s Athens plant will expand capacity and add jobs to Morgan County this year. Caterpillar’s $200 million Athens plant is expected to inject a $2 billion dollar shot in north Georgia’s arm; the 2013 Fortune Top 50 company seeks qualified welders and assemblers to begin a second shift to build mini-hydraulic excavators in Athens.

Global automotive and industrial market sector leader REMA TIP TOP is moving new operations to Madison and just last fall Mannington Mills announced expansion of its luxury tile facility in Morgan County, accompanied by more than 200 jobs.

Citing an Oct. 14, 2013 edition of the Morgan Citizen “the company said it would invest more than $50 million to expand the Amtico plant in Madison as well as facilities in Conyers and Calhoun.”

With a district score of 94.9/100.0 the Morgan County Charter School System ranked among the highest in Georgia under the new CCRPI annual scorecard in 2013, beating out Gwinnett’s 93.5 and gaining ground on Forsyth’s 95.6. Rockdale and Newton scored 85.7 and 79 respectively.

Putnam County, also a charter system, earned an annual school system score of 92.7. The index is a barometer of college and career readiness and replaced the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measure. The state average was 83.4.

Morgan, like some contiguous counties, will gain potential jobs for high school and college graduates from nearby Baxter International whose stock twice topped the market movers list at CNN Money last week prior to Friday’s global biotech slump.

Putnam’s Rock Eagle Science Technology Park adds biotech sizzle to the region flanked by Lakes Sinclair and Oconee and nearby University of Georgia and Georgia State College & University – lifestyle amenities which biotech scientists crave yet with suitable proximity to Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and international airport.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle believes the 86-acre biotech park proposal could engender 500 Lake Oconee jobs close in to Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, and Georgia’s lake country.

But not so fast, argue economic forecasters, for we are in a painfully slow recovery. Terry College of Business reps predicted only modest job growth earlier this year at their annual Economic Outlook series, pointing out that K-12 education in Georgia continues to lag much of the nation.

Enter Lake Oconee Academy, a public pre-K4 – 8th grade college preparatory charter school built on the premise of high expectations. The school will eventually expand to high school grades. The $17 million school was funded with bonds financed through the Greene County Development Authority. As an individual school Lake Oconee scored a 96.7 on the CCRPI annual scorecard.

Good education numbers translate into promising intellectual capital, increased capacity for high dollar industry, and expanded opportunity for all.

Columnist Jeff Meadors holds two advanced degrees from Emory University and may be reached at