Metro Atlanta: Staying Ahead

Strong Growth Continues

Metro Atlanta, undoubtedly the state’s biggest economic engine, experienced robust growth and job creation in 2007, despite a weakened economy and concerns about water and transportation. And 2008 promises continued corporate expansion, infrastructure improvement and major residential, commercial and retail development for the 20-county metro area, which remains among the fastest-growing in the nation.

The city added 12,600 residents in 2007, recording its largest one-year population gain in more than 35 years, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

“We ended 2007 fairly strong in Metro Atlanta, in spite of what’s going on in the rest of the country,” says Hans Gant, senior vice president of economic development for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “We expect to see a net job growth somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 50,000 jobs [for 2007]. And given that we’ve had a couple of quarters in 2007 that were fairly shaky, that’s a pretty strong showing.”

And so far, 2008 looks promising as well. “We’re continuing to see strong growth, both in the form of existing company expansions, as well as new companies of all types coming to the Atlanta metropolitan region,” Gant says. “I think that is a positive indicator of what we could see in 2008. The only caveat is if the capital markets really go bad, all bets may be off.”

There’s good news for downtown Atlanta as well.

“We had a number of major new housing developments open in downtown, which we haven’t had ever before,” says A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress. “We also have a number of new office buildings and hotels … fueled by tax-allocation-district support.”

Established to provide a means of publicly financing certain redevelopment activities in underdeveloped areas, Tax Allocation Districts help finance redevelopment costs by pledging future increases in property taxes generated by the new development. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in February, however, that education revenues can no longer be used for redevelopment projects.

In Fulton, development authority financed projects will generate some $41 million in new tax revenue, says executive director Dr. C. Clayton Powell. One of those bond projects helped induce Invesco PLC, a global investment manager with $504.7 billion in assets, to relocate its headquarters from London to Atlanta.

Several metro counties are aiming to attract smaller businesses. Last year, DeKalb, Newton, Walton, Spalding, Carroll, Paulding and Coweta were designated “Entrepreneur Friendly” by the state Depart-ment of Economic Develop-ment, indicating that they have worked to develop an environment that is welcoming to entrepreneurs.

Officials in several metro counties say education will help them develop in 2008 and beyond.

In Spalding County, the University of Georgia’s Griffin Campus broke ground on a two-story, 33,000-square-foot Student Learning Center, says Bonnie Pfrogner, executive director of the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to provide opportunities for students to earn degrees from UGA without having to move to Athens,” she says.

In Cherokee, plans are in place for Appalachian Technical College to build a campus that will house programs for some 600 students, says Pam Carnes, president and CEO of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce.

Newton County saw the opening of the first of a 12-building, 100-acre Georgia Perimeter College campus in 2007, says John Boothby, president of the Covington/Newton Chamber of Commerce.

“This is not only going to be a very large campus, but there are plans [for] a mixed-use development – retail, residential, restaurants – everything that a college town would have,” he says.

The healthcare industry is sparking new projects in other parts of the metro area. In Paulding County, WellStar is planning to build a new hospital, says Carolyn Delamont, president and CEO of the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce. Gwinnett Medical Center built a new hospital in Duluth and is expanding its main campus in Lawrenceville, says Jim Maran, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Com-merce. The new $75 million Walton Regional Medical Hospital broke ground last year, adds Nancy J. Kinsey, executive director of the county development authority.

DeKalb County is experiencing a boom in both education and healthcare, says Maria Mullins, director of the county Office of Economic Development. “Our academic sector is really leading, and there are a lot of jobs in that sector, and expansions and redevelopment are planned for all of our major hospitals,” she says.

Late in 2007, county commissioners approved a tax allocation district that will facilitate the redevelopment of some 457 acres near I-85 and North Druid Hills Road. “That’s a huge project with lots and lots of opportunity,” Mullins says.

Voters in Rockdale County also approved a TAD in ’07 that will be used for economic development in Conyers’ Olde Town area, says Glenn Sears, executive director of the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce’s economic development council.

“In December, we announced a very large development coming to town on the I-20/Sigmund Road interchange – Wyldwood Place, Georgia,” he says. “Part of it’s residential, it’s tournament-quality tennis courts, a cinema, hotel, convention center, restaurants. It’ll mean a significant number of jobs when that is completed.”

In Henry, the Whirlpool Corpor-ation is building a 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center. “That’s the latest in a number of very large distribution centers in Henry County,” says Bob White, executive director of the development authority.

In Barrow, wood-products manufacturer Boise Cascade has built a 155,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility, says Linda Moore, vice president of the chamber of commerce’s economic development council.

Coweta County announced the opening of a new 875,000-square-foot PetSmart distribution center, the expansion of a Winpak Films shrink-wrap facility and construction of a Kingwasong manufacturing plant, says Bill Harrison, president of the development authority.

Fayette County also recruited a Chinese manufacturer, Sany America, and construction on the company’s North American headquarters and assembly facility began in early ’08, says Matt Forshee, president and CEO of the Fayette County Development Authority.

“Over the next 10 years, they’ll be investing about $100 million and hiring about 600 people,” he says.

Douglas County saw the opening of the American Red Cross’s Southeast regional headquarters, a new Turano Baking Company plant and a 585,000-square-foot distribution center for HON Office Furniture, says Robert Reynolds, executive director of the development authority.

James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, says his area is bringing in new industry, too.

“We’ve had, this past year, eight announcements from companies either relocating or expanding in Forsyth County,” he says. “It’s been $222 million dollars in new capital investment and 732 new jobs.”

In addition to groundbreakings at Clayton State University, the Federal Aviation Administration and a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Clayton County will benefit from redevelopment of the Fort Gillem property. The county also entered into a partnership with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to redevelop the area.

Airports also figure in the future of the more far-flung metro counties. Paulding’s new regional airport is under construction and expected to be completed this fall, according to the Chamber of Commerce’s Carolyn Delamont. In Barrow, the development authority acquired 200 acres near its airport and plans to expand the number of aircraft hangars and aviation-related businesses currently there, says the chamber’s Linda Moore. Newton expanded a 5,500-foot runway, enabling its airport to accommodate corporate jets, says the chamber’s John Boothby. And Pickens County is expanding its airport, adding more hangar space and developing a technology park, says Economic Development Director Larry Toney.

In Butts County, businesspeople have formed an organization called Partners for Smart Growth to help shape the future and take advantage of local assets.

“We’re right between Atlanta and Macon and we have water, for one thing,” says Byrd Garland, the group’s president. “And I think it would be a nice thing if we could lure one of these people that builds hotels and conference centers.”

They’re being strategic in Cobb County, as well, by focusing on life science and biotech companies, says Michael Hughes, director of the county’s economic development office. Two firms, Quintiles Transnational and UCB Pharma, announced expansions that will create some 500 jobs.

Like most Metro Atlanta communities, Carroll County also anticipates more growth in 2008.

Daniel Jackson, president of operations for the Carroll Chamber of Commerce, cites a University of West Georgia economic report released late last year.

“We got really high marks in terms of retail/commercial growth but also industrial-sector jobs,” he says. “We, like everybody, have taken our licks with housing but because we are a high-growth community, because we have diversity of industry and it’s doing well, it appears that we’ve weathered the soft economy probably as well as you could hope for.”

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features