New jobs promised as campaigns spar

Small-tractor manufacturer Kubota Manufacturing of America plans to add 650 jobs in Hall County over the next several years as it invests $100 million in an expansion of its Gainesville headquarters, the state announced Monday.

Kubota, which also manufactures utility vehicles and lawn mowers, will buy 180 acres at Hall County’s Gateway Industrial Centre for the expansion while continuing to operate existing facilities at another Gainesville industrial park, the state said. The company’s total employment after the expansion will eventually grow to more than 2,900.

Separately, Union City officials said Monday that Union Station, the defunct former Shannon Mall that has been slated for redevelopment for years, will become a movie studio and a 1.1 million-square-foot-distribution center. While the city has no businesses or movie studios ready to move in, leaders said the project has the potential to employ about 2,000 people between distribution center employees and film productions.

Construction work on the project will create at least 400 jobs, Union City officials said.

“There was a charge to build something that would be transformative,” said Union City Mayor Vince Williams. “We had to think differently about this property.”

The sunny employment figures could be a boost for Gov. Nathan Deal, who has been under fire because Georgia, for the second month in a row, had the nation’s highest unemployment rate in September at 7.9 percent.

Deal boasted Monday that the Kubota project is a sign his jobs plan is working while his opponent, Democrat Jason Carter, called it smoke and mirrors.

“These are the kinds of announcements that make a difference,” Deal said at a campaign stop in Cornelia, not far from where the Kubota plant would be built. “And we’ve got more great things in store. People are looking here from all over the world. They realize where you locate is important.”

He said Carter, the grandson of former Gov. and President Jimmy Carter, does not have any ideas to bring jobs to Georgia, but would instead drive business away.

Said Carter: “The reality is that he (Deal) is the only person in the state right now who thinks the economy is working for the middle class.”

The emphasis on jobs has grown more contentious as campaigning has intensified in the days leading up to the Nov. 4 election. Recent polls show Deal with a small lead over Carter.

Job growth has been particularly tricky as critics have questioned whether many promised jobs ever materialize — most companies vow, as Kubota did, to add them over a number of years. Others point out that many of the jobs are unskilled or offer low pay.

The Georgia Department of Labor, using federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, said on Monday that the state ranks sixth in the nation and third in the Southeast in job creation when comparing this year to the last. Georgia added 80,000 non-seasonally-adjusted jobs between September 2013 and this September — a growth rate of 2.0 percent.

But Carter said the state lost 15,000 private-sector jobs last month and that prospective jobs are not much solace for those who are hurting.

“We were just now in a community where the (Tysons chicken plant) in Buena Vista laid off more than 100 workers,” he said. “And the governor is never going to show up there. And he is blind to the reality of what has happened.”

In a release about Kubota, state economic development commissioner Chris Carr said the company has potential to become “a flagship for other Japanese companies to locate to Georgia.” Kubota, which employs about 1,300 in the state, has had a Georgia presence for 26 years, with a campus in Hall County and Jefferson in Jackson County.

Backers of Union City’s new studio space — to be dubbed Atlanta Metro Studios of Union City — said the demand for film infrastructure in Georgia remains high. Despite a plethora of sites — including studios near Fayetteville and at Lakewood Fairgrounds and Tyler Perry’s deal for space at Fort McPherson — production companies still can’t find enough suitable space for the productions planned here.

Some industry observes question whether the demand is really still there. And critics argue that tax credits, designed to lure productions to Georgia, are a costly giveaway to a rich industry.

Brian Livesay, chief executive officer of 404 Studio Partners, said not to worry. He said business is so robust that it’s “like people standing on the banks of a river with Dixie cups. “

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Staff writers Scott Trubey, Jeremy Redmon and Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.