Government should let business do its thing

One of the best decisions in my life was our move to Gwinnett 23 years ago. We moved from Miami to a new BellSouth headquarters. We sought a great community to raise our kids, and we found it.

Today, after many years of prosperous growth, Gwinnett is within a couple of years from becoming the most populous county in Georgia, and we find ourselves at a crossroad, asking the proverbial question: "What do we want to be when we grow up?"

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is working closely with a broad private-public coalition of leaders on a strategic visioning project named Partnership Gwinnett. This is a team committed to working collectively to establish a shared vision and proactively creating Gwinnett's future.

While it is premature to elaborate on strategies, economic diversification and wealth creation are goals that have been discussed, with these two objectives: Attract new opportunities in targeted business sectors, and retain and expand existing firms.

One great initiative Gwinnett has undertaken is the implementation of community improvement districts. We now have three CIDs in Gwinnett, and each has its own set of challenges, and strategies. The board members by definition are CID property owners which make them great contributors to the Gwinnett economic engine.

So why are we taking so long to realize significant results with all these gifted risk takers directly involved? When can we expect the creation of another Cumberland Mall or Perimeter Mall on our own turf? What is the hold up?

These questions bring Lee Iacocca to mind. He was the great "redeveloper" of Chrysler Corp. fame, who made the Thomas Paine's quote of "Lead, follow or get out of the way" famous with his book. The clear message is that government should never lead, but instead it needs to get out of the way of the risk takers and follow their lead with supporting infrastructure.

To allow success to continue living here, we need to allow the market forces to drive us to the next level. Gwinnett must continue to be market-driven and allow market demand to rule, and not drive away investment into other counties because governmental micromanagement drives costs higher.

For example, a major local developer followed the county prescribed zoning regulations and submitted building plans for a new high-rise structure in the Gwinnett Place Mall parking lot. This is a project that will add hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the Gwinnett economy.

It is a redevelopment project of sufficient scale to require the Atlanta Regional Commission development of regional impact assessment. The Georgia Planning Act requires that local governments submit details of proposed large projects for intergovernmental review before taking any action to further the project.

"Action" includes rezoning, zoning variance, permit, hookup to a water or sewer system, subdivision or site plan approval, or entering into a contract. This intergovernmental action has taken place, and the project has received very favorable reviews.

This is an area where a CID has been created to foster investment, an area in desperate need of capital infusion and new jobs. And yet, we cannot seem to get out the way by second-guessing the color of the glass or the market studies prepared by experts. We must protect all property owners, and that includes the powerful ones that are trying to take the county to the next level, as well as the powerless that can get hurt in the process.

However, our job is not second-guessing the market opportunity, it is to follow, facilitate and protect. As we go forward with the Partnership Gwinnett visioning project there are significant choices to be made. These choices will dictate what Gwinnett becomes when it grows up. I am one that believes that government is best which governs least.

Gwinnett must nurture, retain and help expand existing local firms. The governmental oversight must encourage local investment by our own, by those that live here and have an interest in our success that transcends profits.

The Board of Commissioners has already approved an outside firm, Minoru Yamasaki Associates' high-rise building plans with much less scrutiny than we are putting on our own. The future is ours to make, so what do you want Gwinnett to be when we grow up?

Jose Perez is the president of Target Market Trends, a Norcross-based consulting firm. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.