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Glenn Cornell comes out of retirement (again) to help build a better Georgia

It takes something awfully special to draw a guy out of retirement after a 40-year career in both the public and private sectors; at least that’s what Glenn Cornell thinks.

“I always said, after I left the state in 2004, that if something came along that intrigued me and challenged me, I’d consider it,” says Cornell, former commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Economic Development.

Enter Forestar Real Estate Group, an Austin, Texas-based company that, with 260,000 acres of land in Georgia, is one of the state’s largest land owners. The company, which develops land for commercial, residential and industrial use, was looking for someone to head up its statewide economic development initiatives. Cornell’s name was on the top of its list, and with good reason. His brief tenure as economic development commissioner was just the capper to a diverse and distinguished career.

A Georgia native from White County, Cornell graduated from Rome’s Berry College in 1962 and immediately went to work for Norfolk Southern Railway. In 1968, he moved to the public sector, leading what was then called the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism during the administrations of governors Lester Maddox and Jimmy Carter.

“It was an exciting time because the state was beginning to develop its international presence,” Cornell recalls. In 1974 he went to work for a real estate developer and two years later joined Bank of America, where he remained for 20 years before retiring.

In 2003 came the first call bringing Cornell out of retirement. Gov. Sonny Perdue asked him to lead the Department of Economic Development. “It was a great experience for me,” he says. “Georgia is a terrific product to sell.”

Cornell accompanied the governor on overseas economic development missions and placed even more emphasis on developing and supporting small business and entrepreneurship.

After a year and a half on the job, he retired for a second time, content to settle down and travel with his wife, Jena. Three years later and virtually out of the blue, Forestar asked Cornell to consider a position with the company that was a blend of private and public interests. The combination of real estate development, economic development and management was a perfect fit for Cornell. “They had an intriguing prospect,” he says. “The company in Georgia was new. We would be helping ‘brand’ the company and help the state of Georgia in terms of helping to develop land and bring in jobs.”

Cornell and his team will spend much of their time identifying potential sites for development, meeting with state and local development authorities, utilities and other interested parties. “Much of the land owned in Georgia by Forestar is located in north Georgia and most is undeveloped,” he says.

The downturn in the real estate market actually works to his advantage. “Entitling the land, which includes changing the zoning, developing infrastructure on the property and bringing the land up to the point of development, will take a year or two,” he adds. “We should be properly situated [with entitlements] when the economy turns.”

Forestar is in the enviable position of being able to develop its property to fit the market. “We can develop the property to the point of putting in infrastructure,” Cornell says, “but leave it for the buyer to finish off the development.”

As a company, Forestar is committed to sustainable, ecologically friendly development, Cornell says, and he proudly points out the addition of Tavia McCuean, former director of The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, as vice president of Forestar in Georgia. McCuean will lead the company’s stewardship and conservation initiatives statewide.

“This isn’t just lip service. We’re putting together a really good team in order to create a different type of company,” Cornell says. “I have retired twice and wasn’t looking for a job. But I felt I could add value to this project. I had 40 years worth of contacts and experience and felt that I could make a difference.”

Cornell, who lives in northern Gwinnett County, remains active in many civic organizations and professional associations. He currently serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees at his alma mater, Berry College, the first alum to do so.

Categories: Influential Georgians