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Development authority approves economic strategic plan.
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Forsyth County, the county’s development authority and the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce may soon have a new agreement for how to attract business to the county.

At a meeting on Thursday, the Forsyth County Development Authority approved an update to the economic development strategic plan. The plan will next go to county commissioners at a special called meeting on Thursday, Jan. 24.

Thursday’s meeting had two aspects: implementation of the plan and an economic update from Chamber President James McCoy and an update on revisions to the county’s economic development ordinance from Vivian Vakili, the county’s new economic development director and revisions.

McCoy said the plan had been approved by the Chamber’s board and a stakeholders group at meetings earlier in the week.

The plan, which is available at the chamber’s website (CummingForsythChamber.org), breaks the plan down into three goals of identity and marketing, business development and real estate development and placemaking and each has priority actions.

For the identity and marketing, the plan looks to conduct surveys in and outside of the county on the partnership, holding annual economic development summits, engaging young professionals, engaging with the real estate community and rechristening the Chamber’s economic development division as the Forsyth County Partnership.

For business development, the plan will form an education task force, engage the county’s youth to either stay in or return to the county after graduation, align Chamber and county resources and explore new incentive tools.

Some priority action for real estate and placemaking are promoting mixed-use developments, promoting a more efficient regulatory process, creating an airport task force and developing and enhancing amenities and infrastructure, among other projects.

TIP Strategies, the firm hired by the chamber to form the plan, identified strengths and weakness currently in the county.

Strengths included strong public-private partnerships, natural assets and scenic appeal, competitive incentives from the state, available land, proximity to Atlanta, the location of Ga. 400 and talent availability and growth.

There were also challenges, such as unfocused growth, an imbalanced tax base, no interstate, rail or regional airport, shortage of diverse housing, lack of transportation alternatives and lingering external perceptions of the county.

To tackle some of those issues, the firm previously recommended developing industrial sites for new business, creating a convention center and hotel development, looking at multi-family zoning categories, expanding development in north Forsyth and around Lake Lanier, creating a group to look at a possible regional airport and designating Ga. 400 as an interstate highway, possibly I-485.

McCoy also gave an update to the county’s economic growth and said the county saw positive improvements in 2018 compared to the previous year, including 107 project inquiries, 38 project announcements of $183.6 billion in capital investment and 1,149 new jobs. All of those metrics, except new jobs, saw an increase, though McCoy pointed out 2017 was an anomaly for job growth.

“This was a record-breaking year for economic development,” McCoy said.

Vakili gave members of the development authority an update to the county’s current ordinance, which was approved in April. She said part of the update is to clear up some issues not tackled the first time including carving out her roles as her position did not exist at the time of the original approval.