Development slow, but getting better

LAWRENCEVILLE -- In 2005, when asked about Gwinnett's prospects as it continued to close in on 1 million residents, development experts predicted any number of things: an engorged county where developers would have to hunt for random parcels, the need for more three- and four-story buildings to find room, that cities like Lawrenceville might battle Atlanta on the housing market.

Enter the so-called "Great Recession."

Since 2008, the vast majority of new development in Gwinnett County has come to a screeching halt. Subdivisions with visions of grandeur sit half completed, or not even started. You don't have to drive far to find a shopping center or strip mall with more than one vacancy.

Alas, the times they are a-changing, Gwinnett Planning and Development Director Bryan Lackey said.

In the last quarter of 2011 and the start of 2012, Lackey's department has begun to see more people interested in starting "various projects in the county," something that's been absent for quite some time -- even if there's the caveat of still having to tie down the money.

"While a lot of these projects are still in the planning stages with financial buy-in being that tough last hurdle," Lackey said, "these types of discussions with us about projects have not been occurring since the economy began its downturn."

Lackey said it was hard to say what role increased diversity throughout the county since 2005 -- Gwinnett has some of the highest Korean, Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese populations in the Southeast, according to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce -- has played in development, essentially because you can't make a fair judgment given the economic turmoil.

He did say that, nationally, "younger adults and empty-nesters" have begun to show a preference for housing with "smaller or no yards, walkability options and a more urban feel." Essentially, apartments.

"We expect to see a market demand for these types of housing options in the future," Lackey said.

On the business front, Gwinnett Chamber Vice President Nick Masino said things have actually been pretty good.

Several businesses -- Ricoh, Mitsubishi, WIKA, Hyundai, Doosan Infracore, FedEx Ground -- have relocated or expanded in Gwinnett in recent years, bringing new jobs and new people to the area. Masino said he expects a continued push to locate manufacturing and logistics operations in the county.

"Our workforce, housing options, education, access (to major highways and the airport) and the expanding ports will be the reason for this growth," he said.

While the economy has slowed a lot of development, Lackey said, it hasn't been all bad.

"While our population growth trends have slowed since the changes in the economy," Lackey said, "we are still projected to have positive and significant growth."

This story is part of the 2012 annual Progress edition, "Moving Gwinnett Toward One Million." To see the complete online edition, click HERE.