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Status of community shaping up
Leaders mark successes during address
State WEB
Local leaders who spoke at Thursdays State of the Community Address included, from left, Forsyth County Commission Chairman Pete Amos, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Darla Light. The event was held at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Forsyth County continued to break records last year. It was named the state’s healthiest county, educated more students than ever before and welcomed more businesses and home projects than in 2011.

“Forsyth County’s economic forecast is stronger than ever,” said Pete Amos, commission chairman. “Forsyth County citizens do not fear a challenge. We embrace it at its core and transform it into opportunities to quench our thirst for progress.”

Amos talked about goal made in 2012 along with future aspirations Thursday during the annual Cumming-Forsyth County State of the Community Address.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Darla Light also addressed the nearly 300 business and community leaders at the event, held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

Amos showed a short video highlighting the recent progress made by the county, including two new fire stations, road projects, new weather sirens, green space and parks projects and the construction of an animal shelter. He also talked about the taxpayer-supported new jail and courthouse, assuring the crowd no money would be wasted on the projects.

The county, he said, is home to more than 56,000 employees working for more than 8,000 businesses. And with more employment opportunities comes housing growth, he said.

“In 2012, Forsyth County led the state of Georgia with 2,300 new residential dwellings, almost doubling the permit number in 2011,” Amos said.

Gravitt also talked about the growth of business in the county, including the expansion of the University of North Georgia into the city, as well as the National Guard Armory, both located on Pilgrim Mill Road.

The city is also “working with … Costco,” Gravitt said.

“That’s going to bring in an additional 150 jobs, not counting the sales tax that they’ll annually pay off that $125 million projected gross income,” Gravitt said.

Gravitt took a few jabs at the past relationship between the city and the county, saying the county “treated myself and the city council like we’re a bunch of Democrats.”

“But I can say that most recently, the commissioners have been most generous and we’ve been able to work together and we look forward to working together ... for a better future,” Gravitt said.

For Light, a product herself of the Forsyth County school system, the community has grown exponentially since she was a student. But the mentality has not changed.

“Our schools were founded on big ideas, where the journey to greatness begins with the belief that anything is possible,” she said.

Light also showed a video of the school system’s accomplishments, its use of technology as a teaching tool and some of the struggles it faces, particularly with growth.

The system, for the first time in 15 years, doesn’t have enough capital to invest in new schools. That problem also translates to operational needs, funding an ever-expanding enrollment without growth in revenue.

“I just want to tell you all how lucky that you are that even in these economic times, that we have a superintendent and a cabinet that are phenomenal,” she said. “We’ve had less and less money and they do more and more things ... Forsyth County is so blessed to have the leadership all the way from the school board down to the teachers.

“We all want what is best for our children.”

Among those to attend the event were several Forsyth County legislative delegates and other elected officials, as well as local and state businesses.

Eddie Newsom with PNC Bank said the event was informative, as well as a good networking opportunity to learn “how we can support the individual communities.”

“It’s important to really get to know the community well,” he said.

As a Forsyth County native, Gretchen Bailey-Christy, now an Alpharetta resident, remembers growing up in Forsyth when “it was nothing.”

“It was a one-horse town,” she said. “Just knowing what it was then to what it is today is a huge jump.

“I actually miss living here after hearing all the wonderful things that are going on here.”

For George Harrison, associate vice president of Cardno ATC, attending the event was about business. His company has done a great deal of work in Forsyth County, including quality assurance for Northside Hospital-Forsyth.

“I’m looking at what they’re doing up here,” Harrison said. “I’m really interested in seeing where the county is going because I’m literally trying to expand my company’s presence in this region ... up here, they’re very thoughtful about the way they do things.”

After the event, chamber president and CEO James McCoy said business professionals like Harrison are what the event is all about. It’s a chance, he said, to get community leaders together in one room for an open conversation.

“It’s also a one-on-one chance to hear directly from them,” McCoy said.

From a business standpoint, McCoy said the county is also “well out of the recession.”

“Last year we had more announcements than we’ve ever had in terms of number of announcements,” he said. “This year we’ve had six ... which is putting us on track to be ahead of last year, assuming we keep the same pace.

“Every year it gets a little better.”