ATLANTA — A conference room on the top floor of the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Veterans Memorial Building in Downtown Atlanta was packed Thursday to nearly standing-room only. Leaders from across the Coastal Empire sat for presentations from state agencies on economic development, education and transportation.
First up, was Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Christopher Nunn, who said a key to the boom of economic development in the region was housing. Nunn, echoing a chorus of leaders in Chatham County, said the region needs a boost in housing supply. He touted state tax credits focused on workforce housing as a solution driving change.
“DCA over the last four or five years has financed construction across the state of about 35,000 homes through the housing tax credits program,” Nunn said. “which ensures that your rent is controlled at a level that is affordable to those folks who are at the entry level of the workforce.”
The Sloppy Floyd Building, ranging 20-stories tall in Downtown Atlanta, sits adjacent to the Georgia State Capitol. The state capitol was scattered with those from Chatham County as part of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Savannah-Chatham Days, Jan. 31-Feb. 1. The event was highlighted by the renowned Oyster Roast on Wednesday, which packed the Georgia Freight Depot that night.
“These conversations continue throughout the legislative session, but we’re off to a good start in 2024,” said Chamber of Commerce President Bert Brantley.
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Presentation on the Talmadge Bridge
The transportation listening session brought an update to cable maintenance on the Talmadge Bridge that potentially will raise the bridge’s height. The idea is that while replacing the cables, the deck of the bridge could be raised.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has contracted with a designer Parsons Transportation Group and general contractor Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. GDOT’s presentation Thursday said anticipated construction will begin in 2025.
Andrew Heath, Georgia Department of Transportation’s deputy chief engineer, said this type of project has been done before. But it’s also rare and complex.
“This is a once-in-a-generation-type engineering project,” Heath said.
The Georgia Ports Authority has called for raising the bridge to allow for larger capacity ships into the Port of Savannah. The GPA needs about 20 more feet of clearance to meet its needs, said GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch in a recent interview.
When asked Thursday how much added height to expect, Heath said they will not know until the designer and contractor bring a proposal to GDOT.
“You have probably seen numbers and heard discussion. We don’t know [the exact number] yet,” Heath said.
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Education and Workforce Development
In April 2023, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law the “Georgia Early Literacy Act,” effectively setting literacy as the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System’s “north star.” as Superintendent Denis Watts has dubbed it. The governor has put money in the budget to implement the bill, according to Matt Cardoza, Georgia Department of Educations’ director of external affairs.
“I was happy to see it,” said SCCPSS Board President Roger Moss. He said he supported the legislation last year and spoke of it positively, but it has required they retrain all of the teachers in the “science of reading,” which requires funding.
“Literacy efforts are vitally important,” Cardoza said during the sessions on Thursday. “Lots of things that we’re trying to do to make sure kids can read, because the next thing we’ll talk about is workforce readiness.”
Technical College System of Georgia’s Executive Director Mark Peevy provided updates about TSCG, including an electric vehicle program that’s already underway at Savannah Tech.
“..We’re well into double digits of folks who’ve gone through the program that are working in Hyundai already, and so, we’re going to continue to do that,” Peevy said.
He added that TSCG is planning on the same or similar programs at Coastal Pines Technical College, Southeastern Technical College and Ogeechee Tech. Additionally, a $56 million training center will be opening on the Hyundai Metaplant property itself, and TSCG is in the process of building out a $10 million addition to the existing training center that sits in Pooler.
Chancellor of the Georgia University System Sonny Perdue spoke briefly about the addition of both a medical school and a dental school to the Georgia Southern University Armstrong campus.
The new campus of Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia has already enrolled 40 medical students there, according to Perdue, and will expand in the future. Earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp announced a budget proposal that included $178 million for the construction of a dental school at Georgia Southern.
Savannah Morning News will continue to track progress of these initiatives and others through the Georgia General Assembly.
Destini Ambus is the general assignment reporter for Chatham County municipalities for the Savannah Morning News. You can reach her at email@example.com. Evan Lasseter is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. You can reach him at ELasseter@gannett.com