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Progress in Gwinnett: The Next Ten Years - Business

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

Heather Darenberg: How do you think businesses in Gwinnett are going to survive this recession, and what direction do you see Gwinnett's business environment going in the next few years?

Emory Morsberger: How are we going to survive? We're going to hunker down and treat people right. We're probably not going to spend as we were previously, because we're not taking in as much as we were previously. We have to treat people right and get through this. ... As far as where we're going to be? I think we're going to be the best situated county in the state. We've got vision, we've got business leadership, we've got an incredible Chamber of Commerce, and we'll come out of this. We won't be as pretty as we used to be for a while, but we'll come out of it.

Nick Masino: I think things are tough, and there is going to be a thinning of businesses in Gwinnett County, but that is not any different than the rest of the United States and the rest of the world. ...

In Atlanta ... this is where the talent and the youth of the U.S. is moving, especially anyone east of the Mississippi. ... This is where young, educated talent moves. ...

The thing that's amazing, in the biggest economic downturn than any of us have seen in our lifetimes, do you know that it's almost been, I think, 24 months straight of an economic development announcement, maybe minus two months, of 100 or more people? Either expansion or relocation? What other community can say that?

HD: What types of businesses do you see in Gwinnett's future in the next decade or so? Do you see more global industries coming here, or small businesses, or a mixture?

NM: What's going to happen is you're going to continue to see the development of Gwinnett's downtowns. They are going to continue to prosper. ... The majority of businesses in Gwinnett County and in Georgia are small businesses anyway. But they are going to continue to expand and grow. This is a great place to open a business.

But in regards to strategically going after large businesses, the Partnership Gwinnett initiative... is focused on IT, advanced communications, health care, life science and corporate regional headquarters. Those are all high-wage, target jobs. What we want to do is create those opportunities for the people who live here and for those intelligent young professionals who are moving here.

EM: Let me add two things. Gwinnett's attracting people with brains, OK, and entrepreneurship. That's what we want. ... That's what will be the future of Gwinnett County, and they are coming for the quality of life, they're coming for the school system, and they are coming for the stability that is here. With all due respect to our adjoining areas, we've got the best stability, and the best quality of life, and the best school system.

HD: You mentioned that the downtown areas in Gwinnett are the fabric of the (community). Where do you think they'll be in 10 years from now? What do you think they'll look like?

EM: I think most of the downtowns in Gwinnett County are on track to become the community center. The community center is not the Wal-Mart, the Mall of Georgia, or some strip center. The community center is the green or the square ...

NM: It's the gathering place.

EM: It's the gathering place. It's where we grew up, and it's what people want. The county has done a good job of the overall infrastructure, but it is up to the towns to create the sense of community. And almost all of them are doing a great job of that. They're going to become more important. People want to be at the center of town.

NM: The downtowns are the front door of every community. ... What I love about Gwinnett County is none of them look the same. Every downtown has their own character. ... It became en vogue around the United States to embrace downtowns, and not just by the government, by people. People were excited about going downtown. I think it was almost an anti-result of suburban sprawl and urban malls. And malls around the United States are on the decline and people are coming back to the downtowns. ....

HD: You mentioned that malls are on the decline. Do you see another Mall of Georgia opening up in Gwinnett County?

NM: I think what you're going to see in regards to malls is you're going to see in the next five to 10 years the Gwinnett Place mall reinvent itself. ... If you look at the branding, there's not a better branded community area in Atlanta. It makes you feel safe. Things are happening, and if it wasn't for the foreign investment, I think half of Pleasant Hill would be empty. That one-third may complain, "Well, there's a lot of businesses down there, (but) I can't read the signs." Well, I'd rather see a sign in Korean or Chinese or Indian or Pakistan versus, "Empty. For lease. Ten months free."

HD: About the concept of the live-work-play communities, how do you think those will develop in the coming years?

EM: Generation Y wants to be close to where they are going. Generation Y does not want to live in the boondocks and drive for an hour. My perception is that Generation Y wants to be able to walk to a restaurant, a theater, a park and a job. Or, at least not sit in traffic for a long time. As things evolve, we're going to see more live-work-play, mixed-use kind of development.

NM: I agree 100 percent. The facts support what Emory just said, which is the desire for mixed-use living options outweighs the available product. The only reason why that every mixed-use-product in Gwinnett's not sold out is that they can't sell their house, their traditional house, wherever they live now. As soon as this thing starts to loosen up and we go through the inventory of foreclosed homes, short sales and half-built houses, we will see the mixed-use developments move quicker, as we have for the 10 years prior to 2007.

HD: In terms of redevelopment versus new development, what do you think will be the focus in the coming years?

EM: We have already begun seeing a lot of redevelopment. ... Most of the cities had an older, declining core, which are now being redeveloped. Redevelopment is moving forward. There is an oversupply of a lot of different kinds of space in greater Gwinnett County that needs to be absorbed before new development will occur.

NM: We've been burning through inventory. We had two expansions this week. We had NCR lease up an entire five-story building. The building that they were in was more than two-thirds empty on Boggs Road, and they're filling that building back up. We have 25 prospects we're talking to right now. We're not going to land them all, but we'll land our fair share as we always do. If we can burn through the inventory, that will create the new construction.