State of the County: Chairman touches on ‘unique selling points’

The county is chock full of unique selling points that are unmatched in the region.

But even with a nationally recognized parks and recreation agency, an expanding job market and the second lowest tax burden per capita in the metro area, Cherokee County leaders continue to raise the bar.

Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens addressed the State of the County on Wednesday — an annual event hosted by the Council for Quality Growth intended to educate the public on how the county is thriving and growing toward a stronger future.

The chairman said guiding principles that shape the county’s future include economic development, quality growth and fiscal integrity. Complete customer satisfaction and continuous improvement are also top priorities for shaping what is yet to come.

“In the business world, if you can establish guiding principles, everything else sticks. Economic development is our No. 1 priority. It has been and it continues to be,” Ahrens said. “We have a lot of projects in the pipeline. Impact fees and permits are significantly up and they are projected to stay up in our next budget.”

Every year, Ahrens said he establishes a theme for the county. During the Great Recession, it was about managing the downturn and creating more opportunities, and then the message became about building competitive advantages. Now, the county is focused on shaping its future.

“It’s a different ballgame running this size of an organization when your revenues are uncertain and your expenses are prefixed,” Ahrens said. “The message here is: These are the outcomes of how we manage the county.”

Addressing some of Cherokee County’s unique selling points, Ahrens pointed out that the county has the second lowest tax burden per capita and the second lowest number of county employees per capita in the region. Although some local activists have argued otherwise, Ahrens said the county’s legal costs per capita also are the second lowest in the region.

Cherokee County additionally ranks in the top 10 for having the lowest general fund tax rate in the state.

Ahrens also praised the county’s public safety agencies for their quick response times as well as the parks and recreation agency for receiving top nods nationally for its youth programs.

Transportation projects remain high up on the county’s priority list, and at least one highway improvement project planned for Cherokee is important to the state, as well.

“The GDOT commissioner made a purposeful visit to come up here the morning we had our meeting with the delegation to make a public announcement that they would allocate state funds from House Bill 170 and take away federal funds for Highway 20 improvements from [Interstate] 575 to [Highway] 400,” Ahrens said. “It shows where we are on their priority list. It has been on the books for a long time. There were a lot of snags, but they have made a commitment. They made an important announcement to the community that we are on the radar.”

The county also completed an update to its Comprehensive Transportation Plan and the commission is expected to vote on accepting the changes at its meeting Tuesday.

“The community had huge input and we ended up with a couple hundred projects with a value of $1.15 billion,” Ahrens said.

Corporate 75 Park in the southwestern part of the county is another successful selling point. In the last two years, more than 600,000 square feet of building space has been added to the Corporate 75 Park and another 510,000 square feet will soon be built.

Cherokee Office of Economic Development President Misti Martin said 29 industries expanded last year.

“We are a growing community and that is a great place to be,” she said. “There are a lot of communities across Georgia that are not growing or thriving. But we have to match our economic development plan with our land use plan so we will have room for business parks and product development.”

The labor force is also projected to grow by more than 14,000 over the course of five years. Martin said the COED is anticipating high growth in the finance, real estate, professional, science and technical sectors.

The county had a 95 percent increase across the professional, science and technology sectors in the last five years, and it is projected to increase by 47 percent through 2020.

Click here to view the original article from the Cherokee Tribune.