State leaders join initiative to mold county's future

ATLANTA - A new partner signed on to leaders' comprehensive vision for Georgia's second-largest county.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and a top state economic development authority gave their support to "Partnership Gwinnett," an effort to add 64,000 jobs and improve quality of life in the county within the next five years.

"Government doesn't create jobs, but it creates the right circumstances for jobs to come," Cagle said to a group of about 50 leaders engaged in the strategy. "The future for Gwinnett is going to be vibrant and bright. The leadership has provided the framework for the success they are going to see."

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, which is the lead sponsor of the initiative, hosted the event at the Capitol to launch the implementation phase of Partnership Gwinnett.

After nine months of strategizing, leaders have adopted four major goals:

•economic diversification

•education and work force excellence

•quality of life enhancements

•marketing and outreach.

"We're not in competition with Birmingham and Baltimore (for jobs). We're in competition with Beijing and Bangalore," said Bill McCargo, a vice president for Scientific Atlanta who is leading the effort. "Competition causes us to get better so we can have a better future for our county. ... We're trying to control our future."

Sharon Rigsby, Gwinnett Technical College's president who co-chaired the study committee with McCargo, said leaders want to reverse trends that have wages falling and poverty on the rise while at the same time enhancing education and quality of life. Another focus of the effort is to engage the international community that now makes up Gwinnett's population.

"Gwinnett is a mature and dynamic community," she said, pointing out that the population of more than 725,000 is larger than four states. "Partnership Gwinnett is really about moving Gwinnett from good to great."

With buy-in from local authorities in government, education, health care, business, revitalization and other sectors, the chamber sought out help from the state.

"We're never content with our past accomplishments," Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula said. "We're always pushing to the next goal to make sure Gwinnett is great."

Cagle and Charlie Gatlin, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said the county effort could be a model to other regions in the state.

"The strength of Georgia relies in the strength of its communities. Partnerships are key to that strength, and we stand here today to be your partner," Gatlin said. "Success depends on these powerful partnerships."