Small business in the Savannah area grew almost 4 percent last year with 587 jobs added in various sectors including retail and wholesale trade, educational services and professional services.
“Small businesses are continuing to do very well,” said Michael Toma, economist and chairman of Armstrong State University’s Center for Regional Analysis.
Toma along with nine other area experts gave reports on the city’s small business community during the annual State of Small Business event, presented by Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE) and Wells Fargo on Wednesday at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
According to Toma, the most rapidly expanding sectors were manufacturing, educational and other services, which saw gains of about 5 percent.
It should come as no surprise that record numbers were also reported within the local film industry and construction and building permits filed with the city.
The state of Georgia ranks first in the nation for its filming-related tax credits. With the addition of local incentives passed by the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the number of movies and television shows being filmed here are higher than ever before.
“Since that was announced production in Savannah has just exploded,” said attorney Charles Bowen, who focuses on entertainment law. In 2015 local spending from the productions brought in about $60 million, shattering the previous record of $18 million set in 2014.
About 273 projects utilized Savannah as a backdrop last year with a total economic impact of more than $125 million, an increase of more than 200 percent from 2014.
“Now that the local rebate has kicked in starting in January of this year, 2016 is already on pace to far surpass 2015,” Bowen said. “It is truly a booming industry and I believe it will be right there with the port and tourism as one of the key pillars of Savannah’s economy.”
Cristy Lawrence, development services liaison for the City of Savannah, reported that 2015 was a record year for permitting, building and construction activity with $404.8 million in building and permitting activity. Last year’s numbers surpassed the previous record of $342 million set in 2013 by about 18 percent. So far, 2016 has been strong, according to Lawrence.
“Through April 30 of this year we’ve already had a strong year and have permitted projects totaling $167 million,” she said, adding the construction work since the recession has shifted to commercial from residential, hitting an all time high of $223 million in 2015. “This shows that our local economy remains steady and strong and that dollars are being spent on buildings and new facilities, which is great for our local economy.”
More than 1,700 building permits were issued last year, and the top 20 permits made up about $234 million of the overall amount.
A few of the notable projects included the Mariner Grove Apartment complex on President Street, the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Weston Dyson building and the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market on the southside.
Developer Richard Kessler’s $130 million Plant Riverside project on the west end of River Street also set a record for being the department’s largest building permit plan submittal in history, with more that 4,000 planning sheets.
One of the most vital aspects that will help the business in the city grow and also attract new and larger firms is the addition of reliable bandwidth and internet access, said Susan Speros, CEO of technology company, Speros. Comcast recently announced plans for a multi-million dollar fiber optic network that will provide 10 gigabit speeds — the fastest in the state — to Savannah businesses.
“It will increase the footprint and help bring more revenue to the city... It used to be when you were looking to relocate your business it was location, location, location and now it’s bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth,” Speros said.
“So I say, build it and they will come.”
Mayor Eddie DeLoach, who spoke briefly during the event and praised the city’s small business leaders for their efforts to keep moving forward and dedication to the small business community, which is he also a member of having been president of TideWater Landscape Management since the 1980s.
“This is probably the most important thing I do...I have been out there, I’ve struggled out there just like you have,” DeLoach said. “...(Small business owners) can do everything, because we have to do everything everyday because we never know what’s going to happen.”
on the web
For more information on The State of Small Business or SCORE, go to www.savannah.score.org.