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Speaker: Community support crucial for success
Annual address highlights progress
Great WEB 1
Jim Sanfilippa shares a laugh before the State of the Community address Thursday at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center. Seated with him, from left, are Linda Cole, Hans Meier and Beth Buursema. - photo by Autumn Vetter

The key to Forsyth County’s continued success is support, a local hospital official told a gathering of nearly 400 community members Thursday.

From teachers supporting students and staff supporting elected officials to the hospital encouraging the county’s thriving health, having a key support system is crucial.

“We are undertaking an effort to have a large but functional support group,” Lynn Jackson said. “Everyone in this room today, we are one big support group.”

Jackson, administrator of Northside Hospital-Forsyth, was one of several speakers during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the Community Address.

The event, whose co-host was the Council for Quality Growth, welcomed representatives from the city, county and school system to talk about progress made in 2011 and goals for the remainder of 2012.

“Today, I’d like to suggest that we allow ourselves the pleasure to get to celebrate the things that make our community so great,” Jackson said.

“Forsyth County is the second-healthiest community in Georgia, the best place for us all to live and work and we should celebrate that. And as a big support group, we should be congratulating one another on the great work that’s being done.”

For the chamber’s part, membership and sponsorship have increased by about 180 percent, said David Seago, chairman of the organization’s board.

So far this year, three new business projects have been announced. They’re expected to generate 125 plus new jobs and nearly $5 million in capital investment.

“One of the most encouraging things that is happening is former members who have stepped back some during the economic downturn are now invested in the chamber again, meaning businesses around here are thriving and growing,” Seago said.

The attendance for Thursday’s luncheon at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center nearly doubled that of last year, Seago said.

Forsyth County Commission Chairman Jim Boff showed a video recapping the past year,

The highlights included enhanced green space, public safety, transportation and senior citizen offerings. The video, he said, showed features that “made me proud to be a part of Forsyth County.”

“It’s the people, the businesses, schools, the location — all of these factors and more that combine to make Forsyth County the unique place it is,” he said.

Boff touched on the county’s low taxes, strong bond rating, capital investments and the value residents get for their taxes. Forsyth was home to 16 economic projects last year, he said, totaling more than 1,000 new jobs and $42 million in capital investment.

“We are continually working to provide our residents with high-quality services they have come to expect from Forsyth County,” Boff said.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt presented a slideshow of the city’s projects over the past few years, including the new aquatic center, driver services facility and the much-awaited campus of North Georgia College & State University — all off Pilgrim Mill Road.

The university is slated for classes as soon as the fall semester and is a project Gravitt said “that myself and the city council and staff have worked on for a long, long time.”

“This is a great asset to our community and will mean a lot for many, many years to come,” Gravitt said.

He also mentioned the National Guard Armory slated to open near the other Pilgrim Mill facilities, as well as the city’s water intake pipe.

There have been some issues between the city and county reaching a water contract agreement, but Gravitt said “hopefully we’ll get to work with the county and get a contract that everybody can live with that would be in the best interest of Cumming, Forsyth County, the state of Georgia and all involved.”

Tom Cleveland, chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Education, started off by talking about Trent Jones.

The eighth-generation Forsyth resident will graduate from the school system in 2026, but by the time he enters kindergarten, will “already know how to use technology better than most of the adults in this room.”

“He is our customer and your future employee,” Cleveland said.

It’s with Jones and children his age in mind that technology has become the focus of the local school system. Students, Cleveland said, bring their own technology into the classroom to create interest.

“We start with innovative and customizable learning opportunities,” he said. “We hope to prepare every student to work in an engaged environment that will prepare them for a global environment.”

The system, he said, also gets a high return on investment. While it spends about $7,400 per student, compared to Georgia’s $8,600 average, Forsyth’s tests scores and graduation rates are at the top of the state.

“We have over 4,200 strong employees that are committed to our over 37,000 students and their families,” Cleveland said.