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Business climate 'bright' here
Lunch recaps investment, development in past year
Lunch 1 WEB
Torri Westmoreland, left, Tim Hopkins and Mary Colston chat before the Spring Economic Development Luncheon on Wednesday at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Autumn McBride

It’s been a good year so far for economic development in Forsyth County.

Randall Toussaint with the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce discussed some of the local achievements during Wednesday’s Spring Economic Development Luncheon.

“Our local economic climate is bright,” Toussaint told the crowd of about 150 at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

Kathe Falls, director of international trade with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, also addressed the gathering.

Gretchen Corbin, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, had been scheduled to speak. However, she was unable to attend due to a work-related conflict in Savannah.

Toussaint, who is the chamber’s vice president of economic development, said eight projects were brought to Forsyth County in 2010.

Those projects represented about $69 million in capital investments and nearly 485 jobs.

“But this year, and we’re just in June, we already have had six projects that have brought in $16.9 million and approximately 593 new jobs,” he said. “That’s already 109 more jobs than last year.”

Toussaint said economic development projects in the county are on average creating about 168 new jobs and more than $3.5 million in capital investments each month.

He noted that despite the economic downturn of the past few years, Forsyth is still the seventh fastest-growing county in the nation.

“We’re also one of the most affluent counties in America and the most affluent county in Georgia,” he said, noting the median yearly household income in Forsyth is about $104,000.

“I’m also proud to say that our high school graduation rate just reached the 90 percent mark and our unemployment rate is now the lowest in the region at 7.5 percent,” he said.

Falls said such attributes make Forsyth a “pro-business county,” which in turn leads to greater interest from companies.

Georgia as a state is pro-business, said Falls, who noted it is home to 14 Fortune 500 companies and 32 Fortune 1,000 companies.

“We’re also home to some 694,000 small businesses,” she said. “And when I say small, I mean most are really small.  About 95 percent of those have fewer than 50 employees. So, we have a very diverse economy in Georgia.”

That diverse economy includes a number of international businesses.

Falls said the state has about 3,600 foreign companies, employing about 195,000 people.

Forsyth also has a global presence. Toussaint said the county has more than 50 international firms.

“We continue to work with international companies to make sure we maintain our competitive edge in the international market,” he said.

Georgia also strives to maintain that edge, Falls said.

“We are one of, if not the only, states in the nation to offer an international concierge service to help our international businesses adjust to the Georgia business climate,” she said.

She said the department also has 10 locations in other nations, including Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Korea and Mexico.

Falls also briefly discussed Gov. Nathan Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative, a program designed to help “Georgia business thrive, grow and attract new companies.”

Falls said a steering committee was put together earlier this spring. The group then sent out surveys to chambers of commerce statewide.

Currently, Falls said, a series of regional meetings is being held to discuss survey results and gather input on what needs to take place in each region, as well as the state as a whole, to attract more business.

Forsyth County is a part of Region 2, which includes counties in Georgia’s northeastern corner.

The region’s public input meeting will be held Aug. 25 at the Forsyth Conference Center.