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October 10--  An investment of local tax dollars is keeping a local industry from moving and is helping with its expansion.

The corporate headquarters of TUMI Luggage in New Jersey was considering moving the company's Vidalia operation to the western United States.  However, after hearing from its Vidalia manager Richard Lawrence and receiving a $500,000 grant from the Toombs County Development Authority,the decision was made to keep TUMI in Vidalia and expand it's plant by more than 70,000 square feet.


At the groundbreaking Tuesday, the chairman of the Toombs County Development Authority, Chip Matheson, says the grant is an investment to keep jobs in Toombs County.

"Our community today is strong because of existing industry.  When they came to us, we worked together to make it possible to help them stay here and keep the jobs we already have plus the jobs they're bringing here and the new investment they're making.  We felt it was important to step forward and help an existing industry just like we would to help a new industry looking to come here," he said.

Lawrence says the company recognizes the importance of its Toombs County employees and that played a big part in the decision to stay.  TUMI has 190 fulltime employees and about 30 temporary workers.

"The most important thing to me was the retention of jobs.  We think that our employees are the best employees in this area and we wanted to retain them.  We expect to add 40 to 50 employees over the next five years and the capital expenditure we'll make this year is about $2 million.  Of course, the grant from the Development Authority was also a big factor in the decision," Lawrence noted.

The Toombs County commission provides one mil of taxes each year to help the Development Authority attract and keep jobs.  Jennifer Nelson with the Georgia Department of Economic Development says that investment is critical to success.

"Communities which are trying to be proactive and aggressive in keeping companies as well as attracting new companies are using local money to help support those efforts," Nelson says.

TUMI estimates its new building will be completed by next April.