A new economic plan and partnership between major parties in Forsyth County were the highlights of this year’s State of the County event.
On Wednesday, the state of the county event was held at The Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College and featured an address from Forsyth County Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson, a panel discussion from local business, county and education leaders and an announcement of a new partnership between those parties, known as Forward Forsyth, complete with a ribbon cutting and falling confetti.
“The new partnership is really designed to provide leadership, oversight and guidance to the execution of the economic development plan and to provide all of us an opportunity for all of us to communicate and chat with each other a little better,” said James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.
Along with Semanson, the panel was made up of Chamber chairman Kevin McDonough, Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey, Forsyth County Development Authority chairman David Seago and Lanier Technical College’s Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Operations Joanne Tolleson, with McCoy serving as moderator.
During the discussion, McCoy said the new partnership offered a “very tangible and very real entity that can be communicated out to the market place” and asked members what they felt would be the benefit of economic development through the group.
“The better the partnership does together as its own group I think will help reduce our reliance on the ad valorem taxes on the residential tax base,” Morrissey said. “We all know that we need to increase the commercial tax base, and that will help us keep our current millage rate, which is the lowest in metro Atlanta and the lowest of the large school systems in the state of Georgia.”
Conversely, McCoy also asked what could be lost in the community if there was not a focus on economic development.
“This is not 2009, this is 2019. The economy is booming and we can’t miss an opportunity to take advantage of that quality growth,” Seago said. “There’s a lot of competition out there, and we’ve got to be on top of it, and at the end of the day, we improve the tax base, so it’s the right time.”
The partnership is part of recent plans for economic development, which have included a new county ordinance and a proposed new plan for development between Forsyth County, the Chamber and the development authority.
The plan is broken down into three goals – identity and marketing, business development and real estate development and placemaking – and each has priority actions.
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 (natural assets, proximity to Atlanta, Ga. 400) and weaknesses (unfocused growth, shortage of diverse house, transportation issues) currently in the county.
The plan also sets out a number of targeted industries, including e-commerce and distribution, data services, advanced manufacturing, technology and research and development, professional services and headquarters and healthcare.
Before the panel discussion, Semanson gave the annual state of the county address, highlighting what was accomplished by county departments in 2018. She said while previewing the speech with the county’s communications team, she realized the world was starting to take notice of Forsyth County.
“I noted that this was happening because our secret had been discovered, and that secret is our people, our residents,” she said. “When we talk about economic development, it has to be in the context of what it will do for our residents, how it will improve their lives here in Forsyth County.”
Semanson said last year the county was awarded 16 grants totaling about $8.5 million for local projects, resurfaced 54 miles of local roadways, provided almost 20,000 trips through Dial-a-Ride, responded to 14,000 fire calls, received an average of 890 911 calls a day, cared for almost 2,000 animals at the animal shelter, checked out 2,645,758 items from libraries, had 1.7 million parks visitors and collected 1,134 tons of recycled materials at recycling centers.
“When people talk about the places where you live, work and play, Forsyth County has the live and play parts figured out,” Semanson said. “We are figuring out ways to move from a bedroom community to a fully-realized community, and to do that, we need to add more of the work component. The number of residents who commute to jobs outside Forsyth County is close to 75 percent, and we need to change that.”