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‘A remarkable year’ celebrated at chamber's Economic Development Summit
Economic Development Summit
From left: Moderator Barton Lowrey and panelists Adam Allman and Bob McLeod discuss economic projects as part of Forward Forsyth’s Economic Development Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 30.

According to local leaders, despite challenges, 2021 was a good year for business in Forsyth County and things could be looking up in 2022.

At Forward Forsyth’s Economic Development Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at Lanier Technical College, Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO James McCoy said “we’ve had a remarkable year, and this coming year is shaping up to be an equally, if not more, remarkable year.”

Forward Forsyth is a public-private partnership of the Forsyth County Government, the Forsyth County Development Authority, the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, Forsyth County Schools and Forsyth’s higher-learning institutions.

Along with McCoy, local leaders, members of the business community and others gave their thoughts on Forsyth’s economy during the meeting.

Here’s what they had to say. 


A look at 2021

Derrick Brooks, the 2022 chair of the chamber’s board of directors, said 2021 has been a busy year for businesses moving to or expanding in Forsyth County.

“In 2021, we had 79 new projects,” Brooks said. “[Of the projects,] 60 were of those were new companies coming to Forsyth County, 18 of those were expansions for existing companies and one of those was a retention project where they were leaving the county, and our efforts helped them to stay.”

Brooks said 1,823 jobs were created in the county during that time.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the chamber and other community members began Together 4 FoCo, an initiative to bring residents and businesses together, which assisted 129 businesses through six Small Business Administration information sessions, helping make 21 connections for businesses and hosting six job fairs.

Brooks said FoCo Works, the chamber’s workforce development division, had created a job board that had 44 postings, a virtual career fair and two in-person career fairs, along with events focused on the manufacturing and healthcare fields.


Continuing to grow

While Brooks touched on the past successes of the county, other speakers had an eye on the future.

Bob McLeod, CFO of McDonald Development, was part of a panel of speakers and told those in attendance there was a demand for space for businesses in the county.

He said the biggest challenge “is most tenants grow here. They very rarely just sit at one size, and if you can’t accommodate their growth … they left” but a project in the works could add more space for companies.

“We’re excited that we’re starting a new project, the Forsyth Commerce Center, at Hwy. 141 and Hwy. 9,” McLeod said. “It’s going to be 900,000 square feet at completion. We’ve got our first two buildings underway, a total of 350,000 [square feet], a 200,000 and a 150,000.”

McLeod said the county has seen an increase in the types of businesses coming to the area and Forsyth’s economy, housing and entertainment options are a draw for companies and employees.

“It really kind of shocks me when I see the kind of tenants coming to the county: technology, advanced manufacturing, design,” he said. “We have aerospace design companies there. We have four different audio-visual design and technology companies. We have manufacturing and logistics engineering companies.

“We’re trying to take advantage of the great education base and proximity to housing. They want to have a short commute. The thing about Forsyth County is I think every other county and city would aspire to be what Forsyth is, which is the true work-live-play hook to do everything here.”

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County efforts

During the summit, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said leaders are also planning for future economic growth in the county.

For part of that growth, she asked those who would like to see an increase in businesses to make their voice heard in Foster Forsyth 2022, a 12-month planning effort that will culminate in a partial update to the county’s comprehensive plan.

“I think that one thing that we really need your involvement in is the land-use map that we’re operating right now, Foster Forsyth,” Mills said. “It’s just now starting in the meetings, and we need people to lobby for more commercial property and to really step up and be part of the process.”

Mills said while it is easy for commissioners to get focused on their districts, economic development is a county-wide issue and the county used COVID-19 recovery funds to help run sewer lines to areas that are going to grow, along with rezoning land for future projects.

“I’ve already got two projects going ahead in north Forsyth for a 60-acre industrial site and a 50-acre industrial site that is already going to reap the benefits,” she said. “We’re putting a document in place, our county attorney is working on it right now, I believe 75% of that [capacity] has got to go for commercial development. We have to use that for commercial before any residential can come in.”

 

Plans for Lanier Tech

With Lanier Tech’s Forsyth Conference Center hosting the event, the school’s future was also discussed.

Donna Brinson, the school’s vice president of academic affairs, said there are plans to build a new building, at an expected cost of about $36 million, for the Forsyth campus.

“Our dream is to build a fourth building to support the existing and new health science programs,” Brinson said, “and then to repurpose our Building B, which is the building perpendicular to [the conference center], to its original purpose, which is supporting engineering and manufacturing.”

Brinson said the school already offers training for medical careers including nursing, medical assistant and physical therapist assistant and the new facility would also be used for health sciences.

Potential new programs in the space would be for emergency medical technician, paramedic, respiratory therapist, funeral science, radiologic technology, surgical technology and health information technician careers.

The existing building, which Brinson said would take about $3 million to repurpose, is planned to offer engineering technology, mechatronics, industrial systems and possibly plumbing and construction management.

 

Internships

While most of the event’s speakers were business or community leaders, David Nuthakki, a senior at Forsyth County’s Alliance Academy for innovation shared his experiences as a cybersecurity intern at Siemens Energy.

“Whether you are a student or are a business looking to enter Forsyth County, I would say that you should join this program,” Nuthakki said. “The reason is because it’s beneficial for all parties involved. As a student, I get to have meaningful and worthwhile experience [and businesses can] make a mark in their local community.”

Nuthakki said his internship experience helped him gain hands-on experience in the field.

“I would say that three main skills I’ve gotten from this experience are communication, professionalism, as well as clarity,” he said.  “Communication genuinely and truly is key. Making sure that everyone is on the same page on a project makes things get done not only faster but more productive, and it makes your end result as refined as possible.”