Ask Columbia County leaders what their favorite color is and they'll likely say green -- John Deere Green. It's the color of money here.
The company's announcement Thursday of a 206,000 square foot expansion represents a $23 million boost to the local economy and as many as 80 new jobs, with the potential of 120 more, depending on market growth.
The company will purchase 105 acres in Grovetown's Horizon South Industrial Park to build the new facility that will nearly double the current 280,000 square foot operation. The new jobs will be added to the company's local work force of 250.
"These are the kinds of industries you pray about -- big, environmentally clean -- it's just exciting," said Charles Mills, president of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.
The company will buy the land for $11,000 an acre -- a total price of $916,630 for the 83.33 acres deemed usable. Closing should occur within a week, groundbreaking is scheduled for Sept. 13 and the plant should be completed in a year, company officials said.
While the company is paying for the land, the county will be paying for water, sewer, roads and other infrastructure improvements, which should equal the value of the land. However the county does have a few guarantees in the contract. As part of the agreement, John Deere officials guarantee that they will generate 84 jobs within three years or pay the county $5,000 per job under that amount.
For Columbia County, the announcement was the largest since John Deere first opened in 1991. Along with the proposal, the company presented five-year plans that would further expand the plant and increase the work force by an additional 122. But company officials emphasized that future expansion would be contingent on market demand for its line of small, gentleman-farmer tractors.
The local plant manufactures the 15 to 75 horsepower Series 4000 and 5000 tractors used for a variety of grounds care, landscaping and farming activities. The company plans to move the assembly of the 5000 TEN series to the new plant, which also include a new distribution center plus office space for management and engineering staff members.
"The expansion is the result of the high demand for the products assembled here at the Augusta factory," said Paul Meyer, general manager of the local plant. "Many areas of the agricultural market are lagging, but sales of the tractors we produce here, ranging from 15 to 75 horsepower, have increased. John Deere's market share with the compact utility tractor has steadily increased, and we believe this new facility will help John Deere better meet its customers needs."
He said sales have increased 500 percent since 1991 for the compact utility tractors the local plant produces.
The new facility is also expected to produce the recently introduced 5100 Series Advantage tractor line, which is targeted for the 40 to 50 horsepower market.
"Your community and your state should recognize the high compliment that a customer pays you when they choose to do more business with you," said Randy Cardoza, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism, who attended the ceremony. "Deere has a great facility here and the near doubling of their factory is a very high compliment to the employees at the facility and to the leadership of Columbia County and the Augusta region. Companies don't invest $23 million lightly. The highest form of a compliment is for a company to expand their business where they are. I just hope there's some more land somewhere nearby so that we might stand here in another four years and talk about another expansion of this great American company."