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County leaders discuss economic strategy

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter and District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks took part in an economic development workshop on Aug. 12. (Staff Photo: Kristi Reed)

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter and District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks took part in an economic development workshop on Aug. 12. (Staff Photo: Kristi Reed)

In an effort to foster redevelopment, create jobs and keep Gwinnett a preferred place to live, county leaders held a workshop on Tuesday designed to explore issues related to economic development.

During the meeting, Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter and District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks discussed ways the county can manage growth, attract jobs and leverage existing resources.

Ken Bleakly, founder and president of Bleakly Advisory Group, led the nearly five-hour workshop which provided commissioners with the opportunity to ask questions and identify areas of focus.

According to Bleakly, the county has many strengths when it comes to economic development. Those strengths, he said, include a diverse job base, good economic development tools and resources, as well as strong population growth.

The diverse job base, he explained, means employment opportunities are spread across several industries resulting in no single point of weakness as there would be if the county job market were dominated by a single large employer. Retail, healthcare and professional services are among the top public sector employers in Gwinnett County, he added.

Bleakly explained the county’s economic development tools — including Tax Allocation Districts (TADs), Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) and overlay districts — are also very important to the county’s economic success.

“You’ve got a really good tool set,” he said.

The county also has substantial community and economic development resources according to Bleakly. Partnership Gwinnett, SPLOST, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, transportation, parks and education were some of the resources both inside and outside the county which he said could be used to ensure economic success.

“The counties that seem to have success in economic development tap into those and use those in addition to their tradition economic activities,” Bleakly said.

The county’s strong population growth is also another driving force in economic development, he explained. Gwinnett County’s population currently stands at 860,000. Conservative estimates place the county’s population above 1 million by 2030. Those residents will create a large worker base, but also place demands on the government and infrastructure.

Growth has been a pattern in the county and will continue to be an issue, Bleakly said. Managing that growth, he cautioned, will be an ongoing challenge.

Bleakly encouraged the commissioners to begin the process of setting economic development priorities.

“What would we prioritize as things we, as a county, can focus on?” Bleakly asked while encouraging commissioners to focus on those areas in which they could have the greatest impact.

Tuesday’s workshop followed a July 22 session in which commissioners discussed ways to strategically move forward with the goals outlined in the 2030 Unified Plan. The board plans to host several of these workshops over the next several months.