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College's clout building
Impact likely to grow with new campus
Construction crews work Tuesday on the University Center | GA 400 in Cumming. The college campus is expected to open to students in mid-August. - photo by Autumn Vetter

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An area college made a big impact last year not only on students but the economy.

According to a report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega contributed nearly $172 million and accounted for more than 1,900 jobs in fiscal year 2011 throughout a six-county area that includes Forsyth.

The other counties are Lumpkin, Hall, Dawson, White and Union.

The report measured the economic impact of the University System of Georgia and its 35 member institutions.

In total, the report showed that Georgia universities had a $13.2 billion economic impact on the state’s economy.

“Comparisons of the FY 2011 estimates to those for recent years show that our public college and universities really proved their economic worth during tough economic times,” said study author Jeffrey M. Humphreys in a statement. “Without exception, each college or university is an economic lynchpin of its host community.”

As a member of North Georgia’s region and host to the college’s master of business administration degree program, which has been housed on the fourth floor of Cumming City Hall for several years, Forsyth has benefited from the Dahlonega-based institution.

However, those benefits likely will multiply as a new permanent satellite campus of the school and Gainesville State University soon will open.

Sherman Day, director of the new campus, which has been dubbed University Center | GA 400, said the $7 million, 38,000-square-foot facility on Pilgrim Mill Road is “on track” to open to students in mid-August.

The location is near the Cumming Aquatic Center and Driver Services Center, as well as what will eventually be a National Guard Armory.

“The builders are telling us they would like to turn the building over to us on the sixth or the eighth of August,” Day said.

The Georgia Board of Regents earlier this year approved the consolidation of North Georgia and Gainesville State College into one institution that will be called University of North Georgia.

The two schools officially will become the university in January. In the meantime, Day said classes would be held under the two universities.

“We’re on two different schedules for this semester,” he said. “Gainesville classes will all start on the 13th [of August] and the North Georgia classes will all start on the 20th.

“We will actually start moving things into the building around the first of August.”

While Day said an economic impact study hasn’t been conducted for the new campus, he predicted the site will only help the local economy.

“The reason we haven’t [done an economic impact study] is because we haven’t looked at what the full potential of this is going to be yet, but it’s becoming clear to us that the potential is very great,” he said.

“We’re already starting to talk about what are we going to do when this building gets full.”

Day said he anticipates opening the semester with anywhere between 250 and 300 students.

“We’ll be starting with over 100 [credit] classes and we’ll have several full programs like the MBA program that will be run completely here.

“We’ll have a two-year nursing program from start to finish here. We’ll have all the core curriculum that anyone needs to pursue majors, so we’ve got a wide range of offerings here and it’s going to do nothing but grow.”

Bobby Thomas, chairman of the Forsyth County Development Authority, said the new campus should help draw new businesses and industry.

“It’s hard to put a number on the economic impact,” he said. “But I just know that as we try to recruit different business or industry to come into the county, higher education is always an important factor on [prospective businesses’] checklists.”

While the county has as strong track record of landing new businesses, with an average of four new leads each month according to information from the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, Thomas said the college site could help generate more.

“While we’re able to attract a lot of companies even without [a permanent college campus] in Forsyth County, having that available here in the county would really be a big help of maybe getting some of those [companies] that we’re missing now and just don’t know it,” he said.

“Any industry looks at the educational facilities for their workers, how educated are our workers going to be, what are the availability of resources for education. So it’s an important factor certainly with business coming in as well as existing business and quality of life.”

In addition to the some 100 credit courses at the new site, Day said the campus will also provide close to 40 non-credit, continuing education classes to the community.

He said many of those have been developed based on needs of the Forsyth business community.

“For example, we saw in the newspaper recently about the number of companies with a German origin,” he said. “So [staff members] are working right now with several of those companies to talk about beginning languages [classes] to help infiltrate those people into the community.”

Overall, Day said the new campuses will provide a range of educational opportunities to many different types of students.

“We’re going to offer a great opportunity for people at any level to start, to transfer, to come back — all kinds of opportunities for all those folks at a reasonable price,” he said.