With the county looking at more and more economic development, some residents have expressed concern at recent commissioner meetings whether Walker County owns the Swanson property and what the county plans to do with it.
Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said the county owns a 40-acre piece of the property, but not the whole parcel, although it does have an option on the property should an appropriate industry be interested in locating there.
“Walker County has had an option on the Swanson property for several years,” said Heiskell. “The reason that we have that option is because that’s the largest parcel of property in northwest Georgia that is suitable for industry. It has water, sewer, electricity, railroad and fiber-optics. It is what you might call industry-ready. All you have to do is the get ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission), which provides grants, to build those utilities back into the facility. So if we have an opportunity to bring in a large industry, we have the option to have them purchase that or to purchase it and sell it to them.
“If somebody else wants to buy it, we have the first right of refusal,” she said. “We had an option on that property because we want Mr. Swanson, unfortunately, to keep paying property tax on there until we have a buyer. We’re not going to buy it until we have a buyer for it.
“We have 40 acres on the Swanson property that’s in one corner off to the side that they’re working to put somebody on,” said Walker County coordinator David Ashburn. “That’s straight-out land that’s owned by the county at this time.”
The county does own the Rock Spring industrial park where Nissin Brake and the old Cardinal building – now inhabited by Northwest Georgia Logistics – are located. Nissin Brake, according to Heiskell, is looking at possibly doubling the size of its manufacturing area and output in the near future.
Of the handful of older, unused light industrial buildings scattered around the county that have sat empty for years or even decades, Heiskell clarified that her office is working hard to market them to new businesses, but they are often not at all suitable to modern industries.
“These little places that we have that are available are not big enough for a large industry, number one. Number two, if it’s an empty building, it’s usually not been filled because the ceilings are too low and it’s not suitable and probably should be torn down and re-built,” she said.
“A lot of time,” said Walker County economic development developer Larry Brooks, “people think that, just because you have a building that was at one time used for industry, you can take a company and shoehorn it into that building. Typically that does not happen. When you deal with industrial prospects, many times they have certain specifics that they want. And just because we would like to put them into an empty building doesn’t necessarily mean that we can make that building fit their requirements.
“With many of the buildings that are available,” he said, “they are owned by private individuals and it’s up to the private individuals as to whether or not they want to make the retrofits.
“That’s one of the reasons sometimes why you have those buildings that have been sitting for some time because the owners of those buildings were unwilling to work with whatever company comes in. That’s what we run into at times when we’re dealing with a particular industrial process,” said Brooks. “Many of these companies that come in, they want something that is tailored specifically to them.”
”You have to have people that are willing to make an investment,” he said.