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County hopes to woo defense facility

WINDER - Officials in counties along Ga. Highway 316 are counting on the jobs.

That's why they want a federal defense facility in their yards - or next door.

The state is making a bid for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, and officials in both Barrow and Oconee counties say Ga. 316 is a natural setting for the project.

A joint development authority has been working to bring bioscience companies to the road that connects Athens' University of Georgia to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. This facility, members have said, would be a perfect fit.

Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said the jobs and money the project would bring to the county would infuse the area with money.

"It would be a focal point for Barrow County," he said.

Matt Forshee, economic development director for Oconee County, said so far the county has just followed the University of Georgia's lead in lobbying for the national research center. But he said the amount of land available between Barrow and Oconee makes the area desirable.

"They're not looking for a secret spot in the desert," he said. "It fits the plan of the 316 corridor."

Demming Bass, a spokesman from the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, said even having the project nearby would be a benefit to Gwinnett. It would bring high-paying jobs to the entire region, he said, as clusters of businesses grew from the facility.

Gwinnett Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said the county does not have specific locations within its borders where it would like the facility to be built, but both Oconee and Barrow do have spots in mind. Bass said he talked to the state's representatives on a trip to Washington, D.C., last week about the importance of bringing the facility to Georgia.

Barrow Chamber of Commerce President Carolyn Delamont said the county has been sending letters touting its work force availability with Lanier Tech, the land and the nearby airport. She said Barrow is more geared toward industry than Oconee, which she hopes will give the county a leg up as an option.

Garrison said the county's site, near the intersection of Ga. 316 and Ga. Highway 53, has a lot to offer.

The quality of life in Barrow is steadily improving, he said, and while the infrastructure necessary for such a facility is not ready now, it is well on its way.

He said no one from the county is going to great lengths to secure the facility yet - no trips to Washington are in Garrison's immediate future - but he did say he would support the project anywhere on Ga. 316.

Forshee, of Oconee, called the building the crown jewel of whatever future growth happens along the corridor.

"It would really bring other companies along behind it," he said.