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Driving development
Awards, address by Evans lead Chamber event
Dr. Robert Dunn walks to the front to receive the Charles F. Welch Citizen of the Year Award.
Business in Forsyth County may have slowed in 2008, but economic development was booming.

Brett Berto, outgoing chairman of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce board, talked about the county’s economic success Monday night during the organization’s 54th annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony.

The county stands to see $1.16 billion in new investments and more than 8,100 new jobs as a result of deals struck in 2008, Berto said.

Those include developer Taubman’s massive mixed use project off Ga. 400 in deep south Forsyth and four other corporate announcements.
Forsyth’s development has also brought a much less desirable result — traffic.

Keynote speaker Gena Evans, commissioner of the state transportation department,  discussed Georgia’s perfect storm of more jobs and less infrastructure funding.

The state ranks third in the nation in population growth, 17th in job creation and fifth in vehicle miles traveled. But it is 49th nationally in transportation resources per person and 43rd in terms of return on taxes paid.

“We have been under-investing in transportation for about 22 years,” Evans said. “It’s time to change that and do something about infrastructure in our state.”

Evans is looking toward the future of transportation, after her first 14 months in office were spent resolving mismanaged funds.

When she first took over, she said, “We didn’t know how many projects we had in our books. We didn’t have a financial statement.”

Under her leadership, the department created its second-ever financial statement. But the results, Evans said, were not pretty. In 2007, the department spent $5.1 billion, but collected $2.8 billion.

Evans said she pulled the plug on major road projects, adding that otherwise the department would have been broke by 2008.

“It made me very unpopular, but I can tell you that, thank goodness, we’re now to the point where we’re starting to see a little bit of recovery of cash in our accounts and we are now able to start paying all of our bills again,” she said.

The bad news is the department will have even less money with which to pay bills, thanks to less federal funding and a decline in state motor fuel tax revenue.

“It appears in 2009 and 2010, most likely, we will not have any funds remaining in the department for [Local Assistance Road Program] and state aid, and that will definitely affect the resurfacing you see in Forsyth County and every county across the state of Georgia,” she said.

Evans also talked about the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package, $932 million of which will go toward transportation investment in Georgia. The transportation department will receive about $624 million.

“Unfortunately, it comes with a lot of strings,” she said.

No environmental waivers will be issued and projects must be federally eligible, meaning some higher priority projects may have to shift to the back burner if they don’t qualify.

Evans said the department is “ready to move forward with our economic stimulus package,” but also sounded a warning.

“It’s about creating jobs and putting people back to work, so don’t think we’re going to invest $932 million in transportation infrastructure and solve congestion in metropolitan Atlanta, because we will not.”

Still, she said, the state is “headed in the right direction.”

State legislators are discussing several transportation bills that could stir funding for the department.

The catch: Even if one of the bills passes this session, it could be 2013 before the money becomes available.

Evans is the wife of former transportation board chairman Mike Evans, who introduced her Monday night.

The couple married in September after Evans stepped down from his post on the board.

Gena Evans has since made her home in Forsyth County, which has fast become a priority.

“Now I’m traveling on Ga. 400, and let me just tell you, one of our future programs will be looking at widening Ga. 400. Holy cow, what a nightmare,” she said, adding the Atlanta Regional Commission projected the county’s current 160,000 population could reach 500,000 by 2015.
“People are continuing to move to the area and I can see why,” she said. “I know a lot about your community now ... and I’m very excited to be part of it.

“You have a lot of great local leadership and you should be very, very proud of your community, and I’m proud to be moving into your community.”

In addition to Evans’ keynote address, the event also featured an awards ceremony.

United Technical Services Inc. was named the Minority Business of the Year, while Chris Newborn was honored as the Volunteer of the Year.
LaFarge Aggregates & Concrete was named Corporate Member of the Year and Bill Norman received Entrepreneur of the Year.

Northside Hospital-Forsyth Administrator Lynn Jackson presented the Charles F. Welch Citizen of the Year Award to Dr. Robert Dunn.
Jackson, in turn, received the 2008 Chair’s Award from Berto.

Jerry Bowman, 2009 chamber chairman, highlighted his goals for the upcoming year, including continuing Berto’s progress.

“Things may not have been great here, but they’re certainly a lot better in Forsyth County than they are in many other places,” he said. “Opportunity is alive and well in our county and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.

“My goal as chairman is to help us align our resources to enable the chamber to continue to be a strong force in taking advantage of all of the opportunities we have.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at