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Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce holds virtual economic development summit featuring community leaders
Forward Forsyth

The Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce held the 2020 Forward Forsyth Economic Development Summit virtually on Tuesday, Nov. 17, inviting county officials and education leaders to speak about Forward Forsyth and how the partnership has benefitted the county this year.

Forward Forsyth is a partnership between the Forsyth County Government, Forsyth County Development Authority, Lanier Technical College, Forsyth County Schools, Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and the University of North Georgia.

The agencies and institutions work together to better Forsyth County’s economic development and plan for the community’s future.

“Forward Forsyth leverages the time and talent of stakeholders from the business community, county government and local schools and colleges to develop and execute strategies and programs to attract investment and jobs to the community,” said Tim McDonald, the executive vice president of Lanier Tech. “The partnership is committed to bringing balance to the tax digest, improving quality of life and ensuring greater stability for the future, hence Forward Forsyth’s tagline of ‘Together, success.’”

McDonald noted that the annual summit is an opportunity to show the community and local business owners some of the progress that leaders have made in their strategic economic development plan in the county.

Carter Patterson, the chair of the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, started off the live streamed event, speaking to Forsyth County’s success in being the first in Georgia to launch an economic recovery initiative this year in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative, Together 4 FoCo, has provided support to local business owners during a time of crisis, providing them with business expertise and access to working capital. As part of the initiative, Forsyth County leaders also strongly encouraged residents to support their local businesses whenever they could, and Patterson said many businesses in the county definitely saw that extra support from the community this year.

Patterson also spoke on Forsyth County CARES, which offered funding to small businesses in the county to help relieve financial hardships they may have been facing as a result of the pandemic. Applications for the funding opened in August this year. Patterson said that more than 600 businesses applied with nearly $3.8 million in grant requests, and more than 300 of those businesses received grant funding assistance.

While many have struggled financially through the pandemic, Patterson said there has been plenty of economic success in the community this year.

He said that Forward Forsyth saw the creation of 528 jobs and more than $109 million in new capital investment in the county. Along with that, Forsyth County was accepted into Georgia’s Innovation Crescent, a collaboration of around 15 counties in the state that work together to recruit new companies to the area and expand current companies.

“We want Forsyth County to remain a healthy and safe, compelling place in which to live, work, recreate, visit and invest,” Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Laura Semanson said. “It is this sense of home and place that brings so many of us to live in Forsyth County, and through our economic development plan and processes, we are able to share that sense of home and place with the many businesses that provide opportunity for our residents and bring value to the greater community.”

Semanson also spoke further about the county’s five-year economic development plan under Forward Forsyth, which includes an emphasis on commercial development within the county. She said that they want to focus further on commercial development to relieve some of the tax burden from individual homeowners.

They also develop programs at the Forsyth County campus based on the community’s needs in the workforce. Recently, the school has worked with Northside Hospital and other area health care providers to begin offering an associate degree nursing program this fall. This program is meant to help meet the “critical need” for registered nurses in Forsyth County and surrounding communities.

“At Lanier Technical College, we feel that economic development and workforce development go hand in hand,” McDonald said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Small business owners from throughout the county also spoke during the summit, reflecting on the Chamber of Commerce and Forward Forsyth has helped them and the community this year.

Chamber of Commerce President James McCoy closed out the summit, thanking the business owners and community members who attended virtually and event sponsors. Lanier Technical College was the premier sponsor for the event.

“It’s all about the business owners and residents of this community and making sure that we are looking after the long-term economic future of our community,” McCoy said. “It’s our greatest chance to make sure we all enjoy prosperity for our children’s sake and our grandchildren’s sake.”

“We want Forsyth County to remain a healthy and safe, compelling place in which to live, work, recreate, visit and invest. It is this sense of home and place that brings so many of us to live in Forsyth County, and through our economic development plan and processes, we are able to share that sense of home and place with the many businesses that provide opportunity for our residents and bring value to the greater community.”
Laura Semanson, chairwoman Forysth County BOC

After its initial “growth spurt,” she said that the county focused mostly on building homes and growing residentially, which created an imbalance in commercial and residential property tax revenues. Semanson said that the county’s current split is 70% residential and 30% commercial, where they want to see the county move closer to 40% commercial.

Since the implementation of the economic development plan, which started last year, Semanson said that the county has seen an increase of 19% in the assessed value of properties owned by businesses. Another 21 new projects have also been announced in 2020 with a majority of those being in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, technology and e-commerce.

Kristin Morrissey, the vice chair of the Forsyth County Board of Education, also gave an update on how the school district has been working to help in the economic development plan this year, speaking on the efforts of Workforce Forsyth, a workforce development pipeline.

Morrissey said that an updated Workforce Forsyth plan will now guide career technology programing in the school district through 2021, promoting new career pathways that “align and fill gaps in business and industry in the county.”

The school system has already started to implement several new career pathways in their high schools, including aerospace, mechatronics, energy systems, cybersecurity, financial technology, veterinary science and architecture drafting and design, which will be offered at East Forsyth High School next school year.

Morrissey also emphasized how well the county has been able to pull through the pandemic economically so far, mentioning that the county’s sales tax revenue only fell by about 3% before increasing again by May this year. She attributed this to many in the county going out of their way to support businesses within their community.

“Businesses and the community working together is another example of how economic development helps to build a strong local economy that benefits both our county and our school system,” Morrissey said.

Dr. Ray Perren, president of Lanier Tech, explained that the college also works to send skilled workers back into the community by providing students with more than 150 programs in more than 50 areas such as industry, healthcare, public safety, business, government and information technology.

They also develop programs at the Forsyth County campus based on the community’s needs in the workforce. Recently, the school has worked with Northside Hospital and other area health care providers to begin offering an associate degree nursing program this fall. This program is meant to help meet the “critical need” for registered nurses in Forsyth County and surrounding communities.

“At Lanier Technical College, we feel that economic development and workforce development go hand in hand,” McDonald said. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Small business owners from throughout the county also spoke during the summit, reflecting on the Chamber of Commerce and Forward Forsyth has helped them and the community this year.

Chamber of Commerce President James McCoy closed out the summit, thanking the business owners and community members who attended virtually and event sponsors. Lanier Technical College was the premier sponsor for the event.

“It’s all about the business owners and residents of this community and making sure that we are looking after the long-term economic future of our community,” McCoy said. “It’s our greatest chance to make sure we all enjoy prosperity for our children’s sake and our grandchildren’s sake.”