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County to offer incentives to draw businesses

LAWRENCEVILLE - After years of watching from the sidelines, Gwinnett County government is getting in the economic development game.

"If you're not in the game, you have no chance of winning the game," County Administrator Jock Connell said, acknowledging the county may have been passed up because it did not offer the same incentives other county governments do.

"We often weren't brought into the conversation," county economist Alfie Meek said. "We weren't even getting a phone call."

Commissioners agreed Tuesday to offer inducements such as abating taxes, waiving fees or speeding up zoning processes to qualified companies.

To qualify, companies must bring at least 25 jobs to the community and have a positive economic impact on the area, which is computed using a standard formula. Officials will also consider the business's impact on infrastructure such as schools, water and roads to determine inducements.

Aaccording to Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce President Jim Maran, two major businesses have been waiting in the wings to make a decision on locating companies in the suburban county.

Maran said he did not know how many business opportunities the county missed because it did not offer incentives.

"You have to be more competitive today in the marketplace. ... To be viewed by a lot of people in the economic development community, you need to be offering economic incentives." he said, adding that the county added 25,000 jobs in 2005. "We've been very fortunate in Gwinnett."

Meek said that while the county is adding jobs, it has lost high-paying jobs in industries affected by the recent economic downturn.

"It may not have been (necessary) in 1992, but it is in 2006," Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said.

Chairman Charles Bannister made economic development a major goal for the county because the county tax base has been tipping toward residents instead of businesses.

According to finance officials, it takes about $1.12 of every dollar brought in in residential taxes to serve the people. For businesses, it costs about 80 cents of every dollar in tax revenue to provide services.

According to county officials, the Chamber of Commerce would continue to take the lead on recruiting businesses to the county. A three-person economic development staff for the government would only get involved in analyzing potential incentive packages.

"We need to use some resources to attract good development," District 2 Commissioner Bert Nasuti said. "If there is another tool available, why not use it?"