Georgia Power, a key partner with the state in economic development, on Thursday backtracked on comments made by a company official who pronounced as “dead” Georgia’s efforts to win jobs from suppliers of industrial giant Caterpillar.
The Illinois-based heavy equipment maker announced a new factory in Athens last year. Officials hailed plans for 1,400 new jobs at the site, and offered the tantalizing prospect that 2,800 more could follow from Caterpillar’s suppliers.
But Jim Lovett, a Georgia Power community and economic development manager, told Putnam County officials this month, “The Caterpillar initiative (by the state) is dead. It’s over. … There’s not going to be any suppliers,” according to a report Thursday in The Eatonton Messenger newspaper.
It was an unusually blunt remark by an executive with Georgia’s largest power company, a critical partner in the state’s recruitment efforts, which helped woo Caterpillar here.
“Our representative quoted was not fully informed about the details of the new Caterpillar facility,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft, adding Lovett “was not involved in the initiative to bring Caterpillar to the state.” He referred further comment to the state.
Chris Cummiskey, the state’s top economic development official, said Lovett’s comments are “untrue.” Georgia’s courtship with the companies that provide parts and other services to Caterpillar has only just begun, he said.
Last month the state held a confab with 77 Caterpillar suppliers in Athens, he said.
But Lovett said state officials contacted Caterpillar’s suppliers in Japan, and were told demand from the new Georgia facility wouldn’t justify building new operations here, according to the report.
Attempts to reach Lovett were not immediately successful.
In February last year, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the new plant where Caterpillar will make excavators designed for small construction sites. The $200 million plant is expected to have 800 employees in its first five years, ramping up to full employment by 2020, company officials have said.
Deal and other state and company officials said Caterpillar suppliers could eventually locate operations within about 70 miles of the Athens plant.
The hope is Caterpillar suppliers will flock to Georgia like Kia Motors’ partners did in the years after that auto plant was built in West Point.
Two Caterpillar suppliers recently announced plans to locate facilities in Anderson, S.C., and create about 400 total jobs, according to published reports.
Dozens of Caterpillar suppliers met in Athens June 26, and Caterpillar officials encouraged its suppliers to give Georgia serious consideration for new operations, Cummiskey said.
“The Caterpillar initiative is going on track exactly as we planned,” he said.