Metro Atlanta: Gaining Momentum

Metro Atlanta economic developers didn’t waste time wringing their hands when growth stalled and businesses floundered. They continued to press ahead. As a transitional year, 2010 finished stronger than anticipated, and that momentum has carried into 2011.

“We were never taking our foot off the accelerator,” says Daniel Jackson, president and CEO of the Carroll County Chamber of Com-merce and Carroll Tomorrow.

Carroll had an increase in industrial activity in the second half of 2010 and is currently working on nine projects, Jackson says.

“The point we’re making is, ‘Now’s the absolute correct time to be sure you have your plans in place,’ he says. “It’s already helping us as things are picking back up.”

A survey of the 20 Metro Atlanta counties found most turning the corner.

“I’m not saying we’ll suddenly see everything being sunshine and roses, but I don’t think it’s going to get any worse,” says Tommy Jennings, president of the Barrow County Chamber of Com-merce.

Barrow lost three banks last year, including a local institution, The Peoples Bank in Winder, but saw 10 to 15 smaller companies move in. Several manufacturing companies are showing renewed growth and are hiring, Jennings says. The county is laying new sewer lines for an industrial park.

Paulding County expected to have its first economic developer in place by March to capitalize on the opening of a 23,000-square-foot terminal at its airport. The next step is establishing a technology park centered on aviation. “We’ve just turned our focus from homebuilding to bringing jobs to Paulding County, and it’s beginning to pay off with the airport opening,” says Carolyn Delamont, president and CEO of the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce.

Greg Wright, president of the Coweta County Development Author-ity, says activity increased toward the end of last year in its primary sectors: manufacturing, warehouse distribution and healthcare. Cancer Treatment Cen-ters of America is under construction and is expected to open in September 2012.

Piedmont Newnan restarted construction on its replacement facility on Poplar Road and anticipates an early 2012 opening; the hospital cut the ribbons on the new Piedmont Outpatient Center at the Summit Healthplex.

DeKalb County saw the addition of the Zurich Insurance Companies and Crawford Communications, says Jona-than Weintraub, deputy chief operating officer – development group for the county.

DeKalb will seek more life sciences industries, he says. “And we are certainly continuing to look at working with Doraville to find good investments for the General Motors site.”

Cherokee County, which already owned 53 acres near I-75 earmarked for a business park, added another 47.

“There aren’t a lot of communities that are buying property right now, but we feel like it’s time for us to get prepared and situated for the future,” says Misti Martin, executive director of the Development Authority of Cherokee County.

Forsyth County had some key ex-pansions, including Northside Hos-pital’s $51-million expansion on its Cumming campus. Arch Chemicals’ acquisition of Atlantis Technologies also generated jobs.

Forsyth is focusing on international businesses, particularly from German-speaking companies, as well as China and Japan, says Randall Toussaint, vice president of economic development for Forsyth County.

Tedra Cheatham, chief operating officer/vice president of economic development at the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, says economic Opportunity Zones were approved in Roswell and Sandy Springs. Alpharetta and Sandy Springs made themselves more competitive through the reduction of business licensing fees.

Vesta, ThyssenKrupp and Hewlett-Packard brought new jobs to North Fulton. “A lot of projects we saw sitting on the sidelines or dragging their feet made decisions in 2010,” Cheatham says, “and a couple of things [are] queued up for 2011.”

After the housing slowdown dampened Henry County’s once-thriving banking industry, Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, is “cautiously optimistic.”

Success stories include the arrival of Phillips-Van Heusen, De Wafelbakkers and John Deere. The county is in the process of negotiating an affiliation for its hospital and is hoping to see a new technical school in the community.

“We’re becoming a location for healthcare on the south side of Atlanta and for higher education,” Pippin says. “We have more good news than bad.”

However, Alan White, Butts County administrator and executive director of the development authority, is not as cheerful.

“We certainly have not seen anything that resembles a turnaround,” he says. “Building has been very, very slow.”

The Development Authority of Butts County, which owns 300 acres of land near I-75, joined forces with Panattoni to market the Riverview Business Park. “It’s been a big deal for the county not just to let that land sit there,” White says.

David Luckie, executive director of the Griffin-Spalding Development Authority, says his county’s bread and butter is still light manufacturing and assembly. It was expected to finish the first phase in March on one of the first green mixed-use parks in Georgia, The Lakes at Green Valley. “We are anticipating seeing some alternative energy projects, perhaps,” Luckie says.

Healthcare continues to be a bright spot in Fayette County, says Virginia Gibbs, president and CEO of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.

Piedmont Fayette Hospital added a new cancer wellness center last year and has additional plans to expand. “The impact beyond the hospital is clearly providing some energy for other businesses and doctors’ offices around that area,” Gibbs says. Chinese company SANY will begin operations in 2011 and is hiring engineers.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, says Atlanta is focusing on “down and dirty infrastructure projects” to get ready for the return of real estate development. “Obviously, we still have an overhang from the construction real estate industry that may be with us another six to 12 months,” he says, “but people can see the light and are feeling better. Companies are adding to their payrolls “

Rockdale County added a number of jobs through expansion, says Glenn Sears, executive director of the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Coun-cil. “We have two expansion projects under way right now for 2011, more coming up, and five attraction projects, all manufacturing, that are interested in us,” Sears says. “People think manufacturing is dead in the country – well it isn’t.”

While the General Mills distribution center opening in Social Circle was the biggest news in Walton County, ground was broken on a 100,000-square-foot building for Minerva Beauty, which makes furniture for beauty shops and spas. It will include an 11,000-square-foot showroom to attract visitors. Last year also saw a $40-million industrial revenue bond for Unisia, which has merged with Hitachi and is hiring.

“I’m going to tell you the truth: 2010 was a good year for us,” says Nan-cy Kinsey, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County. “We have high expectations for 2011.”

In its first full year of operation, the new development authority in Doug-lasville had six new and expanding businesses representing 243 jobs and $72.7 million in investment. The biggest project was the Medline Industries project, a new manufacturing facility.

Jamie Gilbert, executive director of the Douglasville Development Author-ity, has 42 active leads and projects carrying over from last year. “The name of the game is getting them to locate,” he says.

Pickens County saw several companies expand and increase employment last year. “The outlook for 2011 is very positive, thanks to becoming a Work Ready Community, creating the Marble Valley Sustainable Opportunity Zone and founding a local business support organization known as PEER, says Gerry Nechvatal, director of economic development for Pickens County.

Newton County is looking to existing industries to create new jobs. The $100-million expansion of SKC Inc. in Covington, representing 120 new jobs in the next five years, closed out 2010. “We’ve got several things in the pipeline, but they’ve been in the pipeline for a couple of years,” says Shannon Davis, economic development director of the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce. “We have some good chatter from our existing industries, so that’s encouraging.”

The Cobb County Chamber of Commerce has a new leadership team focused on creating “a long-term economic and community development plan,” says Demming Bass, the COO. “It will give us clearly defined goals and clearly defined strategic industries to go after.”

Cobb had a successful 2010 with 1,625 new jobs created, including 380 at the GE Smart Grid Center, 400 at CCH Small Firm Services and 400 at TASQ Technology.

The Riverdale Town Center project and College Park’s Gateway Center development contributed to significant activity in Clayton County.

“We’re showing a positive track record of successful projects in our community,” says Yulonda Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

Nick Masino, vice president of economic development at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, says nearly every month last year saw at least one expansion or company recruitment, and “starting 2011, we are literally backlogged” with similar announcements.

Gwinnett continues to recruit heavily in China, and an Italian manufacturer, Siapi, moved its North American headquarters to the county.

Through its initiative Partnership Gwinnett, which began in 2006, the county also stresses redevelopment. “People ask, ‘Why are you so successful?’ Because we had a plan in place,” Masino says.

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features