From the Pink Pig to the Peach, Austell company tries to do it all

The Peach has been hanging in the paint shop, awaiting the yearly once-over that will prep the 800-pound, fiberglass icon for its close-up moment on New Year’s Eve.

The big orb's nearly-midnight journey down from a perch above Underground Atlanta is the symbol of yet another year passing.

For the Entertainment Design Group, it is just another project.

The Austell company plans events, runs logistics, handles audio or video services, hires performers, writes scripts and often does all of those things at once.

“We do sounds, lighting, video, special effects, snow machines – it goes on and on,” said Steve Guy, EDG president and founder.

They make the stuff the client needs for the event – from scale models of Batman to a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. They produce graduation ceremonies at the University of Georgia. They built a set for rapper Bow Wow. They provide audio for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at both Chastain and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta.

“The smallest job we’d like to have would be $5,000 or so,” Guy said. “That is because it is just as much trouble to produce a $5,000 event as a $50,000 event – sometimes more.”

Things pick up this time of year.

“Right now is the eye of the hurricane,” Guy said in early December. “Before Thanksgiving, it was chaos. And soon it will be again.”

EDG handles the sound at the annual Athenians Ball for Montgomery (Ala.) socialites, the tree-lighting at Memorial City Mall in Houston, the audio-visual presentations at the Mable House amphitheatre in Mableton.

Though EDG has grown to have a global business, locally it is the quiet presence behind several high-profile events.

The Peach Drop is one. But EDG is also involved with the Great Tree and Pink Pig at Macy’s, as well as a host of presentations at Six Flags and the “donors’ wall” at the Georgia Aquarium.

Six Flags is where EDG got its start as a kind of spin-off. Guy had worked there, moving up steadily until he was director of park operations. When he founded EDG up the road a bit from Six Flags, he deliberately avoided doing business with the park at first, wanting to branch out.

After a few years, though, EDG started working with Six Flags. Now, the company handles a series of events for the Six Flags parks, including  the Dark Knight ride, Fright Fest and its Terminator Salvation coaster in Los Angeles.

These have not been the best of times for theme parks or attractions that depend on discretionary spending by consumers. Six Flags, for instance, has been under bankruptcy protection since June.

EDG too has taken a hit, too.

“Our workforce a year ago was 75, and now it’s 42,” Guy said. “It has been brutal. From welders to designers, it has been brutal. I started this in 1991 and I have never seen anything like this. We had year after year of growth like we have never seen before and we probably won’t see again.”

EDG has seen so much of its business vanish because it has simply built its identity in a very discretionary part of the economy, he said. “If you are going to cut something, you cut the Christmas party.”

Guy said gross sales were $15.4 million in 2008 but have fallen about 30 percent in the past 12 months.

But some of its projects – such as the tree at Macy’s or the New Year’s Peach – have the weight of cultural ritual and continue to get funding, he said. “We are selling something that you absolutely don’t need to have, but that you absolutely want. It’s escapism, like during the Great Depression when the movie industry flourished.”

“The great news is we are surviving, we are managing the moment. But I haven’t found the bottom yet, and that is my biggest concern.”

It helps that EDG can sell a wide variety of services.

“We are a theme park without the theme park,” Guy said.

EDG didn’t start with such a range of offerings. But one thing led to another: As a production company, EDG often had trouble finding subcontractors that could do what it needed.

They started a sound company, then added a lighting company. Then they hired welders, carpenters, artists and designers and amassed a fleet of vehicles.

They have a dozen trailers and more than 100 other trucks, Guy said.

“We have to," he said. "If I go to call a wrecker service on New Year’s Eve at 2 a.m. and tell them I need to get a big peach out of Underground Atlanta, they will never show up.”

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