Gainesville/Hall County: Staying Ahead Of The Curve
Vision 2030 Helps Leaders Plan For Growth
“If you build it, they will come,” may be the signature line from the movie Field of Dreams, but the idea behind the phrase can be as aptly applied to the way developers, businesses and government agencies are trying to stay ahead of the bustling growth in Hall County.
The Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce jumped on the planning wagon a couple of years ago with Vision 2030, a guide for development in the direction county residents would prefer. “We came up with 4,000 ideas,” says Denise Deal, executive director of Vision 2030. With the help of a consultant, the ideas were crafted into a 30-page document of goals and initiatives; and a diverse board of directors was gathered to begin implementation.
“What we’re finding is that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. So we’re bringing people together.” Deal says, explaining the board’s approach to broad issues including education.
Representatives from separate city and county school systems, private schools and area colleges, tech schools and universities have formed a consortium to tackle countywide education objectives, including graduating each high school student with the skill set to get a job, and joint enrollment between high schools and higher education.
Vision 2030 also is tackling healthcare. “We’re launching a community wellness program,” Deal says. This program, which will tackle obesity and diabetes first, is in partnership with Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) and other community and medical leaders.
Community wellness is just one of the ways the not-for-profit NGHS is reaching out to residents throughout Hall County. Another means is the expansion of its main facility in downtown Gainesville.
“We’re reinventing this main campus,” says James E. Gardner, Jr., who is president and CEO of NGHS. The 426,000 square feet of construction will almost double the footprint and cost $188 million, he adds.
The development includes a seven-story North Patient Tower, which will add 32 intensive care unit beds and 96 medical/surgical beds, plus a new surgery suite and various support services. The tower is scheduled for completion in 2009.
“This project is about the competitive environment of healthcare,” Gard-ner says. Currently, NGHS has a significant number of semi-private rooms. The expansion will result in all private rooms, making the hospital more competitive with others in the region.
Also under construction on the main campus is a $50 million women and children’s pavilion, scheduled to open in 2008. The space will offer increased capacity from 32 to 48 beds, expanded intermediate and intensive care neonatal nursery and a more efficient labor and delivery area.
“We can’t recruit new OB/GYNs without facilities for them,” Gardner says. “This will position us to take care of the people we have and the growth that’s coming.”
NGHS also is gearing up to care for people in South Hall with an approximately $200 million, 100-bed facility on a 119-acre tract of land in Braselton. Gardner talks about the “golden hour,” that crucial window of time immediately following a heart attack, stroke or car accident when treatment can be most successful, as the reason a hospital is so important in South Hall.
Increasing traffic congestion in the area would only make it more difficult in the future for people to get the emergency care they need in a timely fashion without this new hospital. The new facility is scheduled to open in 2011 or 2012, which may seem a long time away, but as Gardner points out, not only does the facility have to be built; it must also be staffed with qualified medical and support personnel.
A recent study by Medical Economics, a physicians’ trade magazine focused on the business side of medicine, ought to help attract doctors to NGHS’ new facilities. Gainesville was ranked as one of America’s best places to practice medicine, in part because of the five-year-old Ronnie Green Heart Center, which already is ranked within the top 5 percent of all hospitals in the nation in overall cardiac services.
At press time, NGHS was scheduled to open an urgent care center in September to treat non-life-threatening illness and injury – and take some of the load off the busy hospital ER.
“This hospital has the good fortune of being able to take care of everyone. That’s what we do,” Gardner says.
Medical-related businesses are expanding into Gaines-ville, too. ProCare Rx, a Gwinnett County-based company providing benefit claims processing for pharmacies, purchased 23 acres from Hall County at “the entrance to the city,” says Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Dunlap.
Tim Evans, the chamber’s vice president for economic development, says ProCare plans to bring more than 100 jobs to the area once the facility is up and running.
Excellent healthcare is just one of the reasons Barron’s magazine named Gainesville one of the best places to retire in 2003. “It’s a natural retirement area,” Dunlap says. The mountains, the warm climate – without hurricanes – the proximity to Atlanta and Lake Lanier all add to the allure for retirees.
Several new subdivisions targeting adults seeking an active lifestyle are in various stages of development. A new Del Webb community in South Hall, Village at Deaton Creek, has sold more than 400 homes since opening in November 2006 and plans 1,250 homes total, Dunlap says.
Seasons on Lanier, a Levitt and Sons community in Gainesville, plans more than 700 homes. Lanier Village Estates in North Hall Coun-ty, which can house a resident from active lifestyle through assisted-living, is “like living at the Ritz,” Dunlap says. “People come from everywhere to live there.”
Retirees aren’t the only people moving into Hall County. Gaines-ville-Hall County is the nation’s ninth fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area, Evans says, with more than 1,300 single-family housing permits issued in 2006.
Men’s Journal magazine named Gainesville one of the 50 Best Places to Live in its April 2007 issue. Such national recognition has contributed to the area’s continued strong housing market, despite downturns in other parts of the state and nation. “We haven’t seen a housing downturn,” Dunlap says.
High-end communities, such as Sterling on the Lake in Flowery Branch, are becoming more common in the county. Sterling on the Lake (not Lake Lanier, but a private, 75-acre lake) has sold more than 500 homes since opening in May 2004 and plans a total of 1,800 homes on 1,000 acres at build out.
Mundy Mill in Oakwood is a multi-use development that includes residential, retail and commercial office space on more than 500 acres. Straddling Mundy Mill Road, the development will include 1,400 single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. In addition, 450,000 square feet of retail space has been approved.
Sterling on the Lake residents will soon find convenient shopping, too. West of the subdivision on Spout Springs Road at I-985, Stonebridge, a $30 million, 500,000-square-foot retail center is set to open in November. The location is perfect for a retail hub because of the growth in Hall County and because it is 10 miles from both the Mall of Georgia and Gainesville, says Tim Berg, vice president of Halvorsen Real Estate Corp., the company developing Stonebridge. Stores will include Kohl’s, Target, Home Depot, Office Depot and PetSmart, plus banks and restaurants.
The Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council adopted retail development and recruitment as a goal in 2006, Evans says. In addition to the new Mundy Mill and Stonebridge developments, retail corridors are thriving along Dawsonville Highway (Highway 53) west of Gainesville and Friendship Road off I-985, among other places in the county.
The focus on retail hasn’t dimmed industrial development, however. According to the Gaines-ville-Hall County Economic Report, 25 new and expanded industries created more than 1,000 new jobs and $146 million in capital investment in the last year.
“Industries that are here expand here,” says Jim Shuler, county administrator. “That’s a huge success for us.”
Wrigley Manufacturing Co. was named Georgia Manufacturer of the Year in 2006 and announced an $80 million expansion, which will bring 200 new jobs to its Hall County facility and make it the largest Wrigley’s location in North America.
Pattillo Construction has been working in industrial development in Hall County for 20 years, says Larry Callahan, Pattillo’s CEO, starting with Gainesville South Industrial Park in the 1980s and most recently with Oakwood South Industrial Park.
Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs was seeking jobs and investment in the community. “We are a catalyst to bring jobs to a community,” Calla-han says. Pattillo buys a piece of land, builds a spec building, then sells or leases it, buys the next piece and begins the process again. “We get a steady flow of activity and bring in a steady flow of customers,” Callahan adds.
TRW automotive recently bought one of Pattillo’s spec buildings, Evans says. Following a $25 million equipment investment and $7 million spent on the building, TRW will combine the operations from several facilities into the new Hall County plant, which will manufacture brake caliper systems. Evans says the company estimates having 225 employees by year’s end.
Looking ahead to the next development, the county is doing its due diligence in preparation for a 550-acre, high-tech industrial park in South Hall near the new hospital site, says Tom Oliver, Hall County Commission chairman.
One challenge facing this growing county is developing new leadership, Oliver says. “We’re working hard to keep our young people. That’s part of the goal of the new industrial park, to give young people a reason to stay.”
Recreational facilities also help keep people in the area and Hall County offers abundant opportunities for a good time. The public Chattahoochee Golf Course in Gainesville reopened in January 2007 following a yearlong $4 million renovation that rerouted the course, says Bryan Shuler, Gainesville city manager (no relation to Jim Shuler).
The other big news in recreation, Bryan Shuler says, is the Frances Meadows Center, scheduled to open in June 2008. The community center, adjacent to Gainesville Middle School (also under construction), will offer meeting facilities, indoor pools and an outdoor water park. The center is the result of a partnership with the Gainesville City School System, Shuler notes. By combining resources, 53 acres were purchased jointly for the center and the new middle school, and the two will share facilities.
Partnerships throughout the coun-ty help keep the myriad projects on track as Hall County faces the challenges of growth. It’s all just part of what makes Hall “the most exciting place in the world to be,” Oliver declares.
Gainesville/Hall County At-A-Glance
Hall County, 180,000; Gainesville, 35,000;
Flowery Branch, 5,150; Oakwood, 3,600;
Lula 2,500; Clermont, 80
Hall County, 4 percent;
Georgia, 4.9 percent
Top 5 Largest
Non-Manufacturing Employers *
Northeast Georgia Health System, 4,095; Wal-Mart, 1,000; Liberty Mutual Insurance, 600; The Longstreet Clinic, 400; Lake Lanier Islands, 330
Gainesville-Hall Chamber of Commerce; Cities of Clermont, Gainesville,
Flowery Branch, Lula and Oakwood; Georgia Dept. of Labor.