PROGRESS: Gwinnett's location, employee base appeal to businesses

LAWRENCEVILLE -- In a little more than a year, economic development success stories in Gwinnett have counted a range of businesses, such as package distribution, satellite communication, beverage supply and heating and air technology.

Trumpeting the arrivals have been local officials in Norcross, Duluth and Suwanee.

The executives from those companies often cite location as a top priority in their choice of Gwinnett.

"Access to highways, an area to pull employees, and ways to access and serve our customers," FedEx spokesman David Westrick said, at a recent ribbon-cutting in Norcross, are the main objectives in finding a new facility.

A spokesman for ViaSat Inc., a major satellite corporation, which broke ground on a Duluth facility earlier this year that will attract 275 jobs, said Gwinnett is an ideal location to find a highly skilled workforce.

"We're benefitting from the great location and economic strength of this community, and we look forward to future expansions in Gwinnett," spokesman Bruce Rowe said.

With a new president coming this spring, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce continues to put economic development at the top of its priority list in the coming year.

Since Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating began operations in Gwinnett more than 20 years ago, it has expanded twice, including a new Suwanee location that was pegged to open by this spring, said Bill Rau, senior vice president and general manager, at a groundbreaking last year. Mitsubishi retained 200 jobs and plans to add 200 more in the move to Suwanee.

When former Chamber President and CEO Jim Maran, who retired last year, began working with the Chamber a decade ago, Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash has said his greatest accomplishment was development of a global outlook.

"His knowledge of international business has been valuable in helping Gwinnett broaden the focus of its economic development activities and recognize its need and ability to compete on the international level," Nash said.

Because of Maran's lead in that area, the Chamber at an awards dinner in February presented the inaugural James J. Maran International Award to WIKA Instrument, LP. WIKA is a German-based company that makes pressure gauges, diaphragm seals, pressure transmitters and thermometers and established its U.S. headquarters in Lawrenceville. The annual award was developed to recognize an international company that has chosen to locate in Gwinnett, taking advantage of Gwinnett's pro-business mindset, and become an active member of the Chamber and the local community.

At the same awards dinner in February, incoming Chamber chairman Philip Wolfe said his first priority this year is to name a president and CEO to replace Maran. Wolfe said he's pleased with the list of strong candidates and looks forward to an April announcement of Maran's successor.