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Leadership, planning keys to future success

For the third consecutive year, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce initiated a Strategic Leadership Visit that continues a tradition of the county's leaders visiting and learning from peers in other successful communities.

Previous best practice studies of economic development brought Gwinnett County's leaders to Fairfax, Va., and Plano and Richardson, Texas. The 2008 Strategic Leadership Visit focused on Raleigh, Durham, and Wake County, N.C.

Under the leadership of President and CEO Jim Maran of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the 2008 visit brought us to the Research Triangle of North Carolina for an in-depth study of successful long-term regional efforts in developing a mixed use economy; a highly educated work force; excellent schools and universities; outstanding health care facilities; transportation and revitalization initiatives; and leisure, social and cultural opportunities.

When we looked at the Research Triangle, and previously at Fairfax County, Plano and Richardson, we saw some of what we are now seeing in Gwinnett County and - with judicious planning, vision and leadership - what we might one day become.

As Chairman Jim Maran noted, perhaps the greatest value of our studies of other successful communities has been the opportunity for Gwinnett's and other Metro Atlanta business, civic and community leaders to cultivate new relationships and a common sense of mission to improve the quality of life for our area.

In advance of our study trip, Gwinnett Chamber's 2008 President, Bill McCargo of Cisco Systems, and Demming Bass and Natalie Shore of the Chamber staff provided a detailed bibliography of readings and case studies about the Research Triangle, Wake County and Raleigh, the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, and the Wake County Schools.

Among the thought leaders that we met during our Strategic Leadership Visit were Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and Chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners Joe Bryan.

"Our communities share some similar experiences when it comes to managing phenomenal growth," Meeker said. "Raleigh is one of the fastest-growing regions of the country. Raleigh has received national attention from various publications for being one of the best places in American to live, work and play."

Bryan noted that, "Wake County is the second largest county in North Carolina, with 12 thriving municipalities. With an average of 106 new people making Wake County home on a daily basis, county leaders are addressing the impact of growth on housing, transportation and education."

As the District 3 School Board member in Gwinnett County, I was particularly interested in the public education initiatives of Wake County.

Both school systems face the impact of unprecedented population growth. Gwinnett County Public Schools benefited from having the special purpose local option sales tax available over the last decade to build new schools debt-free and to absorb much of our increased student population. To meet the needs of unprecedented growth, Wake County moved to a year-round school calendar for all new schools and for some previously operating facilities.

From our study trip, we learned that thoughtful leadership and long-term planning were essential ingredients of the remarkably successful development of North Carolina's Research Triangle.

Among the lessons from our study trip to Raleigh and Wake County, we learned that the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is a competitive presence in economic development for our region through its Innovation Crescent and Partnership Gwinnett programs.

In the best traditions of regional economic development, these programs provide Gwinnett County with a platform for an internationally recognized hub of life science talent and research.

Also, they invite us collaboratively to support and market our region as the center of Georgia's life sciences in the areas of education, transportation, economic development, business/university partnerships, revitalization, and tourism, arts and culture.

Mary Kay Murphy represents Disctrict 3 on the Board of Education.