Despite some tough economic challenges nationally, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and community have weathered the storm.
Tracy Moon, chamber chairman, said 2010 may have been one of the best years on record thanks to community efforts.
“A perfect example is the facility we’re sitting in tonight,” he said during the chamber’s 55th annual meeting and dinner.
The event Friday night was the first held in the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
The center, Moon said, came together as a result of community leaders working together, just as many of the chamber’s recent achievements have come about.
Combining efforts with Germany-based Hansgrohe, which has a presence in Forsyth County, led in part to the creation of an international economic development plan, which included a call center that pitches the area to businesses from Europe and elsewhere.
“We’ve already begun to see results,” Moon said. “This year, seven companies have announced plans to relocate or expand in our community.”
Working toward educational goals has also resulted in local initiatives to improve SAT scores (2400 Challenge) and graduation rates (PROPEL) in Forsyth’s public schools.
The quality of education is an important factor businesses consider when deciding where to locate, Moon said.
“We do not compete for businesses, in most cases, in Georgia,” he said. “Our competition is communities around the nation.
“Many of the communities we benchmark against have better graduation rates than we do. We’re going to catch them, and we’re going to beat them.”
The chamber itself had a positive 2010, Moon said, meeting all membership goals while operating below budget and booking a “modest profit” of $60,000.
Moon was one of several speakers during the evening program, which included the 2009 and 2011 chairmen, as well as James McCoy, chamber president and CEO, among others.
One of the chamber’s biggest recent successes has been the dedicated effort toward small businesses in the community.
Having a staff member devoted to small business makes the chamber unique in the Atlanta metro area, said Jerry Bowman, 2009 chamber chairman.
“Small business are the incubator that help revive the economy,” said Bowman, who attributed the community’s durability through sluggish times in large part to its focus on small business.
That involvement may have led to the county having a lower unemployment rate than the state or nation.
Four new company investments also brought in about 210 jobs during the difficult year of 2009.
“We have struggled in Forsyth County as the nation as struggled in the last few years, but there are a lot of people in the United States who would love to trade places with the folks in Forsyth County,” Bowman said. “We’re blessed to live here.”
The chamber’s chairman-elect John Kieffer said he hoped to continue the work of the last couple years and attract new businesses.
Some new initiatives for 2011 hope to connect the largest employers with local vendors and suppliers, and offer micro-lending for small businesses in the community.
“2011 is a promising year for all of us,” Kieffer said. “It is my goal and vision to see our community become the best place in the nation to do business.”
Also during the program, state Rep. Mark Hamilton presented the chamber’s Charles F. Welch Citizenship Award for 2010.
The award, sponsored by AT&T, went to Everett and Teresa Bennett, owners of Bennett Graphics.
A county native, Everett Bennett is chairman of LEADER and CASA. He and his brother, Larry, founded the company in 1967.