Scoring Starbucks plant for Augusta a product of relationships, hard work

We'll drink to that

Starbucks is coming to Augusta, a $172 million investment bringing more than 140 jobs to the area.

In addition to the jobs at the plant, Augusta Economic Development Authority executive director Walter Sprouse estimates the plant will help create three to four other jobs in various industries.

“Construction, maintenance, lawnscaping, security, utility, retail – all these areas usually see increases in employment due to industrial jobs,” he said.

The authority announced March 21 that Starbucks will be building a 110,000- to 160,000-square-foot plant on 100 acres in the Augusta Corporate Park, a 1,500-acre site off Mike Padgett Highway. Construction will begin this spring, and the plant is expected to open in January 2014.

The plant will be the first owned and operated by the company to produce soluble products, such as VIA instant coffee, the ingredients for Frappuccino and Starbucks’ ready-to-drink beverages.

Less than four months ago, Rockwood Color and Pigment Services announced it will be bringing 80 to 100 jobs to the Augusta area with a $115 million plant that will produce synthetic iron oxide pigments used in construction, coatings and plastics.

The plant will affect more than just the area. Chris Cummiskey, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic De-velopment, said his office worked hard to recruit Starbucks because of the statewide impact.

“Anytime you get a company like Starbucks locating in the state, it’s a good situation for everyone,” he said.

Every investment in the state is important, Cummiskey said, but there’s something special about an internationally-renowned name like Starbucks.

“People view you in a different way,” he said.

The Southeast is a leader in manufacturing, Cummiskey said, and Georgia is on the short list of states businesses consider when they build or expand. A name like Starbucks helps even more.

“It’s free advertising, and it gives us more exposure than we would otherwise get,” he said. “We know Georgia is a great place to be, and it’s just nice to get the attention to reinforce that.”

Landing the Starbucks plant didn’t come from a chance meeting or a lucky coincidence, according to Sprouse.

“It was just a result of good economic-development work,” he said.

The business of economic development is based on relationships, Sprouse said, and the key to getting companies such as Starbucks and Rockwood to Augusta is keeping in contact with the right people. A few years ago, he and his staff decided to slash their advertising budget in order to allow for more funds for face-to-face contact with executives and site-selection consultants.

Sprouse said corporations hire these consultants to help connect them with development authorities across the country that have properties conducive to whatever the particular project requires.

“We’re constantly in touch with a number of site-selection consultants across the country,” he said. “Our job is to make sure we’re in touch with the right people.”

Starbucks representatives and their consultants made numerous trips to Augusta in the process, Sprouse said, and most of their meetings were held in the Augusta Regional Airport’s conference room. Confidentiality comes with the territory, he said, but airport employees knew not to ask for introductions with the AEDA’s guests.

“A lot of people made this possible, without even knowing what we were working towards,” he said.

AEDA Chairman Henry Ingram, who was in the discussions with Starbucks from the beginning, said there are many reasons Augustans should be excited about the new plant.

“Starbucks is an absolute coup for Augusta,” he said. “Starbucks is a company respected for doing their due diligence. We expect a lot of companies to say, ‘If they’re good enough for Starbucks, they’re good enough for me.’ ”

As the third-most-recognized brand in the world, Starbucks brings growth potential that Ingram believes will continue to improve the Augusta area for many years to come.

Augusta was in competition with Florence, S.C., for the plant. Ingram said the other city’s tax incentives and site were slightly more attractive than Augusta’s.

“The kicker was, we kept harping on the (Augusta) quality of life,” Ingram said.

The site could be improved, he said, and the difference between the financial packages was slight. It would take a long time and a lot of work to replicate the quality of life available in Augusta, he insisted.

“Quality of life is important to Starbucks, and they recognized that,” he said.

The 100-acre property allows for expansion and provides a roomy buffer between Starbucks and future Augusta Corporate Park tenants.

“Announcements like this usually have ‘initially’ somewhere in them, just to allow for any growth in the future,” Sprouse said. “It’s just good planning.”

Negotiations for the project went as late as the Sunday night before the Wednesday announcement, but Sprouse knew a decision would be reached in time for the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting on March 21. Early in the week, he finally got the call that Augusta would be Starbucks’ newest U.S. home.

“I’ll never forget,” he said. “They said, ‘Walter, we have reached the conclusion that it’s going to be in our best interest to put our new plant in Augusta.’”

He said he quickly got co-workers Robbie Bennett and Laurie Davis in the room and shared the news with them.

“It’s the phone call you always want to hear,” Sprouse said.

MAKING STARBUCKS

The plant, Starbucks’ fifth U.S. manufacturing facility, will be the first owned and operated by the company to produce soluble products, such as VIA Ready Brew, ingredients for Frappuccino and many ready-to-drink beverages. Those products are currently produced outside the U.S. The plant will prepare and package ingredients and finished products for most of the company’s soluble-based beverages for all of North America and parts of Europe, according to a news release.

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