Originally created 09/27/03

Investment not lost

Politically speaking, Gov. Sonny Perdue turned fertilizer into ice cream after he got the bad news this week that DaimlerChrysler wouldn't be building a $754 million van assembly plant near Savannah.

The governor regretted the economic development setback, but then moved promptly to bail out Peachcare - the Medicare-type program that helps keep Georgia children healthy - with $18 million in tax breaks and preparation incentives that the state had promised to the automaker.

This was a popular, and practical, move. The transfer erased a $17 million shortfall for Peachcare.

It should have been no surprise when DaimlerChrysler announced it would not build the factory in Pooler, west of Savannah. The company has been closing up plants and laying off workers worldwide for months. The surprise would have been if it had gone ahead and built.

The deal to build - which would have created more than 3,000 jobs - was not written in stone. It was based on expectation and a plan. This is why former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, whose state for awhile last year was competing with Georgia for the huge project, is now patting himself on the back.

Hodges backed out of the bidding when DaimlerChrysler made clear there were no guarantees the plant would be built - only a likelihood. Now the ex-governor thinks he's a genius and that Georgia got taken last October when then-Gov. Roy Barnes OK'd spending $60 million to buy and prepare the 1,600-acre tract for the van plant - about $34 million of which has already been spent.

Of course, any deal can become a white elephant, but it's still way too soon to write off the $34 million as a loss. Georgia and Savannah's economic developers knew going in that DaimlerChrysler might not come through. But they figured it was a good gamble anyway because, as Gov. Perdue noted when told the deal had collapsed, "The good news is there is a world-class site (available in Pooler) and we're free to pursue other opportunities."

Indeed, the site is primed and ready to host a huge industry or a bevy of smaller ones. There's a well-educated work force available, and Pooler, which is near Savannah, is a great place to work and live. Once the economic turnaround picks up steam, it would be a big surprise if something important didn't show up there.

The point is, don't give up. Stay optimistic. It can still happen.


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