Opportunity Cherokee Unveiled

Nearly 200 people gathered Wednesday, October 28th at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center to witness the unveiling of the Opportunity Cherokee Plan. State, county and city representatives, as well as local business owners, developers and residents were among the guests at the event hosted by the Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED). “The fact that this many people from your community are here to talk economic development strategy speaks volumes,” said Chris Carr, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development who was the key note speaker.

Cherokee County Commission Chairman, Buzz Ahrens opened the presentation stating that the plan offers “valuable direction” for the future of Cherokee. Marshall Day COED Chairman paid thanks to the economic development partners and team saying, “When great things are happening in economic development it means there is partnering, and we have great partners.” Partnership became a prevalent theme of the presentation.

The purpose of the event was to roll-out the Opportunity Cherokee Plan, a five year economic strategic plan that COED and Boyette Strategic Advisors (BSA) have been working on since January. Del Boyette and Tracy Sharp of BSA gave a high level overview of the detailed strategy, describing the process, countless hours of research and data that went into drafting this blueprint. The development included stakeholder interviews and surveys in which 2,400 participants were engaged. A comment from one of those participants stood out to Del Boyette and helped in defining the reason for Opportunity Cherokee. “We still have a mismatch between the skills of people that live here and the jobs available,” Boyette read to the crowd. In fact, 78 percent of Cherokee residents commute out of the county to work every day. “Cherokee wants to be more than a residential county, and this plan will help you get there.”

Five Target Markets were identified for the county. These are sectors that will see high growth in the next five years. The first was Advanced Manufacturing described as automotive suppliers, aerospace suppliers and medical equipment & supplies. There is already a presence in Cherokee from these sectors with companies such as Inalfa Roof Systems, Universal Alloy Corporation, Piolax USA, Chart Industries and NeoMed Inc. The next sector identified was Commercial Developers. This was explained by attracting developers who will bring in Class A office space, mixed use development, hotels and conference center development in order to help change the perception of Cherokee. “We feel that Cherokee needs a Whole Foods, which aids in the perception shift,” said Tracy Sharp of BSA. Corporate Operations is the next sector which includes finance/insurance processing, corporate headquarters and technical support centers. The next is Film & Media due to the activity already seen in the county and the projected 22 percent growth in this sector. Lastly is Information Technology defined as data centers, health IT and IT services.

Healthcare and entrepreneurship were also named as areas of focus. Entrepreneurial programs and creating a culture for entrepreneurs will play a large roll in attracting high level jobs. Looking at the population of Cherokee, there is a workforce to support these sectors and the large millennial population will help drive the innovation culture. “Seventy percent of millennials want to be entrepreneurs,” said Sharp. “This is really an important area of focus, entrepreneurs want a collaborative space and support in the community.” Cherokee is also primed for growth in healthcare with a great presence and partnership in Northside Hospital-Cherokee.

Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr was complementary in his remarks stating, “You know what your vision is, and you know what you want Cherokee County to be.” He shared a state perspective and approach to economic development calling it an “integrated approach.” He described this as not only bringing new jobs and investment to Georgia but also leveraging all of the assets the state has in a partnership approach. “The strategy we have taken at the state level aligns perfectly for where you are and your growth in the next five years.”

Chip Poth, CEO of Universal Alloy Corporation (UAC) shared an international perspective. UAC moved their corporate headquarters and operations to Canton in 1997. They have been named Supplier of the Year for Gulf Stream, Boeing, and Airbus. “Cherokee is my home. I work here, I go to church here,” said Poth. “I travel the world with UAC. We work with people all over the globe, but we made Cherokee home to UAC for a reason, the people.” Poth went on to explain that when UAC has a need that COED and Cherokee partners step in to get things done using the example of their recent land purchase for future expansion. “If a hotel conference center is built in Cherokee, UAC will be the first to bring an international meeting here,” said Poth. In conclusion, to show his support for the Opportunity Cherokee Plan, Poth presented Misti Martin COED President, Steve Holcomb COED Vice Chairman and Marshall Day with a check and challenged others to get behind this vision.

Opportunity Cherokee is a five year plan.  Implementation will take partnership from the county, chamber, cities and community. Martin closed the event with this, “The people of Cherokee have spoken, you all have spoken. This is Cherokee’s plan, and we are counting on the community to make this vision a reality.”