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Georgia View: Gwinnett Gets It

Managing a major metropolitan county or municipal government in these times is no easy task. Though the recession is slowly fading across Georgia, many of the challenges it caused remain. And while no county, city or region is perfect or has all the answers when dealing with the challenges of growth and shrinking budgets, I hear time and again from developers, state officials, business owners and even other local government officials that Gwinnett gets it.

Because Gwinnett County is not experiencing the same level of explosive growth that it did in the 1980s, the experienced officials are taking the opportunity to make adjustments to the county’s super-sized infrastructure.

The faces in place today form a seasoned crew. County Commission Chair Charlotte Nash was elected in a special election in 2011, then re-elected in 2012 without opposition. Though fairly new to elected office, Nash, a native of Gwinnett, knows the inner workings of the county well. She worked in Gwinnett County government for 27 years prior to her 2004 retirement, including nine years as county administrator and stints as director of financial services, budget director and grants manager. She is also this year’s chair of the ACCG, Georgia’s county association. Nash is joined in leading the government by several experienced county commissioners.

On the law enforcement side of the aisle, District Attorney Danny Porter joined the Gwinnett DA’s office right out of the University of Georgia Law School in 1981. Following several promotions, highly visible work as a drug prosecutor and organizing a special drug prosecution unit, he was elected Gwinnett DA in 1992 and has been re-elected every four years since.

Sheriff Butch Conway was first elected in 1996 and is currently in the midst of his fifth term. He began his career in law enforcement in 1973 as an officer in the Gwinnett County Police Department. As the county’s population has grown, so, too, has the sheriff’s department, going from 320, when Conway was first elected, to 725 employees now.

The Gwinnett County Public Schools system is the state’s largest – and one of the most diverse – and the 14th largest in the U.S., with a student population of 176,000 in 136 schools and centers. Despite this huge student population and the staff to support it, the system remains generally among the top five in the state by most standardized test measurements.

In 2010 and 2014, the system was awarded the Broad Prize for Urban Education from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Gwinnett became the first school district to win this award – the largest education award in the country – once, then win it again in its first year of eligibility following receipt of the first award.

The $1-million prize is awarded to school districts that improve student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among low-income students. The prize is awarded in the form of scholarships based on financial need and academic performance.

The diversity of the school system is reflected in the general population and is the result in large part of the more than 500 international companies that call Gwinnett home, including businesses from Germany, Italy, China and Korea. An educated workforce is essential to supporting both international and domestic companies, and two institutions of higher education – Georgia Gwinnett College and Gwinnett Technical College – do just that through degree programs that meet the needs of the workforce.

While all of these things are signs that Gwinnett gets it, challenges remain, including the continuing drive to add new cities (there are 16 municipalities now) and increasing traffic woes. But those are challenges across the metro region.

I was born Inside the Perimeter (ITP), a native of DeKalb County, and though most of my family has moved farther and farther outside Atlanta, ITP I remain. If I was considering a move outside Atlanta or was looking to locate a business that needed access to all the amenities and benefits of the city (and I really like that Gwinnett Braves stadium), there is no question in my mind where we would be heading. Anyone want to recommend a good real estate agent?

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