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MARAN: Gwinnett must do homework before making airport decision

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce advocates and supports business growth and community progress for the purpose of long-term sustainability and a superior quality of life in our community. With those goals in mind, transportation in any form plays a vital role in the forward movement of those common goals.

From roads to rail and buses to air travel, multi-modal strategies including pedestrian-friendly amenities are proven to have a profound influence on the development and future of any given community.

In Gwinnett’s case, Briscoe Field has recently received considerable attention for both its current and potential contribution to Gwinnett’s already-dynamic community. Last Thursday at a public forum, residents from all around Gwinnett voiced the pros and cons on development ideas for commercialization and privatization of the airport. The event, led by the county, provided Gwinnett’s commissioners with opportunity to hear diverse opinions from several local constituents and then use that input for the ultimate purpose of determining a best course of action.

Now, although privatization and commercialization were prime topics of dispute at this forum and, mind you, have worked in many other places, they are but two potential courses of action — the others being do something else or do nothing. This is why it is so imperative for Gwinnett to do its homework on this topic and engage not only public input but third party professional recommendation as well. And these things must happen before any decision is made.

The Gwinnett Chamber firmly believes that a “Best Use” study should be conducted on the airport to determine which direction — whether privatize, commercialize, do something else or do nothing at all — we should pursue and investigate further. The study should be done by an independent consultant and should evaluate all aspects of the suggested potentials from environmental effects and property value assessments to economic impact and sustainability. From there, a request for proposal can be submitted based on the professional recommendation received and the public input gained from Thursday’s forum as well as any future public information meetings.

Just last year, Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett Chamber sought and gained public input through a highly successful initiative — Engage Gwinnett. The purpose? Gaining a better understanding for what Gwinnett residents felt the county could be doing to minimize budget expenditures, reduce deficit and maintain the fiscal reputation that earns Gwinnett its AAA bond rating year over year. Out of that initiative, many recommendations were implemented and even more are still being considered. So, public input — first and foremost — is imperative to a progressive community, and no matter the final outcome of the airport issue, Gwinnett’s leaders are to be commended for their outreach and desire to engage public input on a topic that will radically shape Gwinnett’s future.

Gwinnett is and always has been a forward-thinking and progressive community. From its residents to its businesses, we have always been known for quality growth and solid leadership. It is what drives our collective success and the future of this airport should add to our legacy, not detract from it. Movement on this project — through study, proposal, public involvement and ultimately a decision one way or another — is the surest way to maintain our strong reputation.

Jim Maran is president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.