January 2, 2023 | News

Franklin heads to Atlanta to represent District 160, epicenter of new industry

Writer: Al Hackle

Published January 2, 2023
Statesboro Herald

Lehman Franklin III, a Statesboro auto dealership general manager and company vice president who resides in the Stilson community, is set to be sworn in as the new state representative from House District 160 when the Georgia General Assembly session convenes Monday, Jan. 9.

He goes to Atlanta abundantly aware that his district has been the epicenter of southeastern Georgia’s biggest industrial announcements, and one of the major economic development news items statewide, of the past year.

District 160 encompasses northern Bryan County around Pembroke and Ellabell, where Hyundai Motor Group is building its electric vehicle and battery plant expected to employ 8,100 people, and all of southern Bulloch County.

“Our area is about to – as everybody knows – about to explode with economic development, so that’s been a big focus of my time, since running, really. …, Franklin said on the phone Friday. “I’ve been trying to do at least two or three events a week where I just go and educate myself on economic development or infrastructure or education-related issues. There’s a lot to learn.”

Franklin, a Republican, succeeds Rep. Jan Tankersley of Brooklet, also a Republican. Tankersley announced last February that she would retire at the end of 2022 after 12 years in the state House, capping a 27-year career in elected office that also included 10 years as a Bulloch County commissioner and five years on Brooklet City Council.

Franklin, now 47, was the only candidate to qualify for the seat in March. So in his first bid for public office, he ran unopposed in the Republican primary and the general election. If anyone was left wondering, after the news media’s lack of attention to an unopposed candidacy, the general manager of Franklin Toyota and vice president of Franklin Automotive Group supports economic development in principle and thinks the growth associated with new industries will be positive if sustainable and met with good planning.

“One reason why I think economic development is so important is I really think there’s no better way to invest in someone’s life than to bring jobs and raise their standard of living,” Franklin said. “It brings hope and opportunity, and that opportunity allows them to stay in their communities, which in turn ultimately strengthens the family.”

BMW example

After graduating from Statesboro High School, Franklin attained a bachelor’s degree in business administration at The Citadel, also known as the Military College of South Carolina, in Charleston, in 1997 and his master’s in business administration at Georgia Southern.

While attending the Citadel, Franklin saw the transformation of the Greenville, South Carolina, area that began with BMW’s construction of an automobile factory there in the late 1990s. Greenville is now “a dynamically different place,” he said.

“And I recognize that some people don’t like change, but if we have a problem, it’s better to have this problem, this growth problem, than what some other counties are facing with no growth or negative growth,” Franklin said.

He said he believes that Bulloch and Bryan counties have “good leaders in place” to deal with growth. Franklin mentioned some specific leaders of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, Ogeechee Technical College and the Bulloch County Schools.

Planning, education and infrastructure – such as water and sewer systems and roads – are things that the state and local governments are going to have to work on to meet the challenges, Franklin said.

Protect agriculture

“We have to do all that and at the same time not damage the agricultural industry that we have here because, you know, agriculture is the biggest economic engine in Georgia, and we have a strong agricultural presence here in our area,” he said. “So all that’s got to be done in the correct way, and there are going to be hard decisions made by, I think, every government official at every level.”

He noted that Georgia Southern has a role preparing for the new industries and that Ogeechee Tech’s leaders are planning in cooperation with Southeastern Technical College and the Technical College System for expansion of industrial robotics programs. He also praised the local school system’s Career Ready Bulloch workforce education plan and website.

“I feel like one of my roles is I’ve got to make sure that these programs and these facilities get the financing and the funding that they need,” Franklin said. “And then we need to make sure that we have the infrastructure, for the communities here in Brooklet and Pembroke, and that we have the ability to sustain this growth that’s coming.”

Set to go

The new representative is the son of Emily Keaton Franklin of Statesboro and the late H. Lehman Franklin Jr.

Lehman Franklin III resides in Stilson with his wife, Lorie, and “a small Noah’s ark,” consisting of about 60 chickens, two goats, a lamb, two turkeys, two guinea fowl, five mini horses, one full-size horse and three dogs.

As of last week, he had an Atlanta apartment rented for the session and could move in Tuesday, Jan. 3. He planned to be back at Franklin Toyota for its remodel celebration Thursday and said he would return to Atlanta by Sunday before being sworn in with all of the other representatives Monday morning.

After the November election, he attended an all-day orientation program for new legislators in Atlanta. Then he went to Athens in early December for a three-day educational program for legislators hosted by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, which covered “basically all the major topics that are facing Georgia … from the lottery to transportation,” he said.

Over the months, members of the area delegation such as Rep. Jon Burns, R-District 159, who will now be Speaker of the House, Rep. Butch Parrish, R-District 158, and Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Senate District 4, and other lawmakers have reached out to welcome Franklin to the Legislature.

Tankersley said she has confidence Franklin will do a good job and she remains available for him to call for information or advice. He said he has done so several times already.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity, the trust that everybody’s put in me here, and I’m going to do my best to serve everybody well,” Franklin said, “and if anybody wants to follow or get in touch with me I do have the website (www.lehmanfranklin.com), of course, and Facebook, and I do an email out every month as well as an update. Any feedback would be great, from anybody.”