The upcoming construction of what appears to be the largest Ingles in the southeast in Hull is pretty big news. It also says something about what outsiders see in our county’s primary commercial zone.
The Hull Ingles sits near a junction of three major highways that feed Athens: 29, 106, 72. Folks from several counties pass that grocery store regularly. If you think about it, anyone with a job in Athens who lives in Madison, Franklin, Hart, Elbert or northern Clarke counties has a good reason to shop at Ingles in Hull. And if you look at the tags in the parking lot, you’ll notice plenty that don’t say “Madison.”
I admit, I was initially perplexed by the notion of doing away with a pretty big Ingles to build an even larger one. Didn’t they already do that? On first glance, that seems fairly wasteful. But if you look at it from Ingles’ perspective and consider territorial strategy, then it comes into focus. They view the Madison County corridor into Athens as pretty valuable real estate. Competitors certainly see this, too. And grocery competitions can be pretty cutthroat. So, if you are able to outsize and outclass your competition, you discourage anyone else from staking a claim on your territory. It’s sort of a flag in the sand. Naturally, there is considerable expense in upgrading their current store, but the expense of a larger Kroger or Publix plopping down nearby and taking a lot of their regional commuter traffic to and from Athens would be an even greater long-term cost to Ingles.
And Ingles’ long-term commitment to grabbing all that regional business will only benefit Madison County in the long run. I expect even more people from outside the county will ultimately shop at Ingles, more people will work there, and more commercial tax dollars will roll into the county coffers.
Plenty of folks wondered why that old building for the original Ingles sat empty for so long. Apparently, the long-term focus was there. But the company couldn’t take action on the upgrade until Madison County laid the groundwork. Ingles’ real estate attorney told me that the company has wanted to expand its store in Hull for some time but that they’ve been waiting on the completion of the county sewer system.
So, now that the Hull sewer system is coming online, Ingles is already at work putting in its sewer line and lift station to connect to the county sewer system.
And here’s one truth that shouldn’t be lost on anyone in this county: That sewer system is also a strategic flag in the sand for Madison County. Think about it, what kind of blow would it be for Madison County’s tax base if that sewer system hadn’t been developed and Ingles had decided to cross over the county line and build a bigger store somewhere down around Athens Tech in Clarke County? A large portion of Madison County’s commercial tax base would have quickly evaporated, leaving an even greater burden on homeowners to fund the county government and schools.
The industrial authority has been maligned at times as the growth wars raged in recent years, but had the IDA not looked ahead on that and moved on the sewer system, losing Ingles, or watching as some larger competitor moved in on the Clarke County side of Hwy. 29 would have been a real possibility.
The growth wars will surely resume. And Madison County’s commitment to agriculture — its backbone — cannot waiver. But there is a smart way to do this. And that does not include choking all change. For instance, Madison County needs to look long-term on infrastructure in areas deemed appropriate for commercial growth in the county’s comprehensive plan.
And it needs to build consensus rather than watch as each government entity takes a go-at-it-alone approach. Looking long has its payoffs. I think the Ingles expansion is evidence of that.
That’s why I was encouraged by the recent meeting in the old county courthouse. Madison County leaders — including mayors, the BOC chairman, the interim superintendent and industrial authority representatives — sat around the large table in the old courthouse. They talked about Madison County’s future. They talked about joining forces on sewerage development along major corridors. They talked about roads.
In years past, I’ve gone to many meetings, listening as a board or council wondered what another group was up to. I’ve witnessed those suspicions. And if you want a government cynic, I can surely be your man at times. But I can appreciate good things in government too. And when leaders from each major government entity have to sit at a table together and talk about big issues, our local governments are healthier. Each community has a voice in the area’s long-term outlook. And frustrations get addressed before they fester and grow into needless expenditures of energy and angst. We’ve seen that happen all too often.
Of course, whatever happens in the long term with our local government, this much is clear right now: Ingles leaders think Madison County is the place to be. They think they have something good and they want to make it better. They have over 200 stores in the southeast. And they want their biggest one to be right here.
They aren’t just talking pretty about Madison County. No, they’re showing validation with their checkbook.
And given all the economic troubles the past couple of years, that’s a nice thing to see, isn’t it?
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
It would be nice to have a good resturant(s) in that area. I'm sure that will happen soon since the sewage system is now available.I know for a fact that has kept some away in the past. No sewage meant limited seating. That equals limited income.
I hope the Ingles expansion will also be attractive to other businesses that want to take advantage of the traffic to competition ratio. We need the convenience as well as the tax dollars.