The technology industry, a planned state-of-the-art spa and a look at economic projects in 2022 were among items discussed by business leaders at an annual event this week.
On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2022 Economic Development Summit at Lanier Technical College’s Forsyth Conference Center, where speakers touched on the successes of the last year and what is coming next.
“You’ve heard from many in the past that Forsyth County faces tough economic challenges due to various factors. However, a renewed focus on commercial growth and development from many sectors, including the chamber and [Forsyth County] Development Authority, must also include chamber membership,” Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Alfred John told those in attendance.
“You are the ones who have the ability to demonstrate why Forsyth County is a great place to do business. You are the ones who can tell the story of why Forsyth County is the place for companies small and large alike to land here, even as you advise us on the challenges and roadblocks.”
Chamber 2022 President Derek Brooks went over the chamber’s annual report, saying “2022 has been another outstanding year for Forward Forsyth.”
Brooks said over the last year, Forward Forsyth developed 59 new projects, 43 new attractions, 15 expansions and one retention, bringing 458 jobs and nearly $210 million in capital investment.
Along with the report, those in attendance also heard about a major project planned in south Forsyth and got a look at Forsyth’s tech industry.
Here’s a look at what topics were discussed at the summit.
While most of the meeting was focused on looking back over the last year, the summit’s keynote speaker discussed a major project on Ronald Reagan Boulevard that has been billed as the “largest spa in North America.”
A 10-acre, immersive hot springs venue is planned south of The Collection and will include spa options made to look and feel like spas in Japan, Israel, Italy and Costa Rica.
“Passport Springs is going to be the first hot spring near Atlanta, but it’s really going to be the first of its kind anywhere because we are recreating hot springs from all around the globe but doing them in one place,” Passport Springs Founder and CEO Jacob Bloch said. “It’s going to be even better than that because it’s going to be the most extraordinary experiences.”
Bloch compared the project to “a mini theme park” that would be “as immersive as possible, all of the architecture, landscaping, sounds, sights, smells and cuisines evoke these places,” including the same mineral content as the originals throughout the spa’s 25 planned pools.
Showing renderings of the proposed pools at the spas, Bloch said Passport Springs will create “a type of experience that doesn’t exist anywhere.”
For example, the Italian portion will feature Roman bathing pools, mosaics and columns, the Japanese area will include sand bathing, bonsai landscaping and a sushi station and the Israel spa will be made to look like the Old City of Jerusalem.
“This is going to be the largest floatation pool in all of North America,” Bloch said. “It will be the second largest in the world, second only to the Dead Sea itself.”
The center of the project will be the passport pool, with doors leading to the four county-specific spas. The central area will also include a restaurant with upstairs seating, other pools and more.
Bloch said the project did not receive any tax abatements or other incentives to come to Forsyth County and third-party groups have projected it will create nearly 500 jobs, generate more than $551 million in economic output and generate more than $25 million in taxes.
Technology in Forsyth
In recent years, tech companies have been a focus for the chamber and other economic development groups in the county, and during the summit, a technology panel was held with officials from three local tech businesses.
Chamber member Carter Patterson held a question-and-answer session with: Donna Drake of Solvay Specialty Polymers, a multinational chemical company; Jason Buenaventura with L3Harris, an aerospace and defense technology company; and Derek Distenfield of FG Ventures, which owns Digital Ignition, a technology incubator in south Forsyth.
Drake said Solvay offers programs for elementary school students to get hands-on experience in science and technology and programs to prepare students in high school and college for careers.
“We were also part of manufacturing day, where we had students come in from the engineering and manufacturing pathways to see that there is a career for them right here in Forsyth County,” Drake said. “Solvay continues to work not just with the high schools, but also with Lanier Tech for some of our trade skills and researchers along with the University of North Georgia and Georgia Tech because we have plenty of jobs for the future right here in Forsyth County.”
Buenaventura said L3Harris has seen growth since the COVID-19 pandemic and that the local area is a driving force for bringing in employees.
“The one thing that is very important here, the area itself, it’s beautiful, it’s affordable, and so people who actually want to go in the office, that aren’t necessarily inclined to be hybrid or remote, really want to stay here and work here for us at L3Harris,” Buenaventura said. “I think we’ve been very fortunate that we do have a very strong talent base to pull from.”
James McCoy, president and CEO of the chamber, highlighted a recent ceremony at Digital Ignition celebrating new signs going along Ga. 400 in north Fulton and south Forsyth designating the area as “the Technology Corridor” of Georgia.
“It was remarkable to stand at that event because there are really only a handful of events in many years that I can point to where we have stood side-by-side with our neighbors in north Fulton to be able to celebrate remarkable announcements like that,” McCoy said, “and [I] really want to appreciate the vision and forethought that went into making that official.”