Economic growth, future focus at Chamber meeting
By: Megan Thornton
CANTON — Economic development was the focus of Thursday’s Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce breakfast, including where the county stands and where it’s headed in the future.
Marshall Day, chairman of the Development Authority of Cherokee County, provided an update on accomplishments in 2012 that he said will bring a positive momentum to carry the county forward in 2013, including: near completion of construction on phase one of Cherokee 75, a 100-acre office park off Highway 92; the Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta off the Ridgewalk Parkway exit on Interstate 575 which is slated to open early this summer and the expansion of Northside Hospital-Cherokee.
Day said it was encouraging that many businesses were willing to invest money into the community.
“That is a good sign our economy is coming back and it bodes well for 2013, which we hope will be a banner year,” Day said
Steve Holcomb, chairman of the Cherokee County Development Authority, which in combination with the Development Authority of Cherokee County makes up the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, said more than 80 percent of businesses generating new jobs and expanding capital investment in the county were existing industries.
“Last year, there were 13 major projects for existing industry expansion,” Holcomb said. “They represented almost $23 million and 365 jobs. That’s a lot of households, folks.”
Holcomb added that industry expansion has increased 550 percent over the last four years and job growth from existing industry has increased 365 percent over that same time period.
“Things are starting to come back,” Holcomb said. “We’ve relied, and we’ve been blessed, on the housing industry, and it’s coming back too, but we’ve got other things to balance our economy that are coming back so it’s very good,” Holcomb said.
Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, said her office has had continuing interest in prospect activity with 62 projects worked on in 2012. She added inquiries about available site and buildings were also up 63 percent from last year.
Martin said her office is touting Cherokee County School District’s achievement in posting the highest average SAT score for the class of 2012 in the state of Georgia.
“If you see the teachers, administrators and staff from our school district make sure you thank them because that has helped us do our job,” Martin said. “We had a marketing event in November and we mentioned this to statewide brokers and Atlanta are project managers and they broke out in a round of applause…We shout that from the rooftops.”
Martin also discussed the county’s over 5,000 acres of Opportunity Zones, which provide tax credits for jobs created, and said 64 percent of prospects were interested in sites and/or building within the boundaries of the Opportunity Zones.
Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens introduced the breakfast’s keynote speaker Craig Lesser, a managing partner of the Pendleton Marketing Group, who lauded the county for its achievements and competitive advantage.
Lesser said the county is competing in a global economy and needs to find ways to retain its competitive edge. He added that standing out amongst metro Atlanta counties is key for Cherokee.
“The issue is differentiation and making sure we help the rest of our community because that is to our advantage, but that we make sure our brand here in Cherokee County, here in our region, is unique and marketable,” Lesser said.
He said it’s also imperative to find ways to keep Cherokee residents working within the county, as approximately 80 percent leave the county every day for work.
“The statistics show that you’re making extraordinary progress,” Lesser said. “You’re not in the ditch like so many other areas in Atlanta and in the rest of the state, you’re about how to make it even better.”
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