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'The future of our region': Cumming, Forsyth County welcomed into Atlanta Regional Commission
Kerry Armstrong
Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Kerry Armstrong speaks at the 2021 State of the Region ceremony.

Forsyth County and the city of Cumming leaders recently received a warm welcome to its new regional commission.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Atlanta Regional Commission hosted the annual State of the Region meeting, where in addition to discussing economic, environmental and growth issues in the metro Atlanta region, members also welcomed leaders from Forsyth, the most recent county to join the group.

“Speaking of joining us, I’m glad to say that our ARC family has grown,” said ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong. “This year, Forsyth County became our 11th member county. The last time ARC expanded was more than 25 years ago, when we welcomed Cherokee County to the family, and that was before the Braves' first World Series Championship [in 1995].

“In many ways, Forsyth County represents the future of our region. We are thrilled to have them join us at the regionally planning table.”

Those attending the meeting online and in-person were also shown a video showing off the natural resources, local businesses and diverse population of Forsyth County.

Near the beginning of the meeting, Forsyth County Commission Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills, Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow and local officials were honored by members of the group.

Using data from the most recent census, ARC executive director Doug Hooker, who is retiring early next year, pointed out that only Houston and Dallas grew more than Atlanta in the 2010s and said the region’s population is more than 6.1 million, which he said was the ninth-largest metro region in the country.

“We’ve also grown more diverse. The Atlanta region is now more than 60% minority. In particular, and you heard this earlier, our Asian American population is booming, especially in areas like Forsyth County, the newest ARC member, where nearly one in five residents identifies as Asian or Asian American,” Hooker said.

“And I will take a moment to echo what Kerry Armstrong had to say that I am thrilled, I am thrilled Chairwoman Mills, to welcome Forsyth to the ARC family,” he said. “I know that the rest of the region will benefit greatly from Forsyth’s strong leadership and innovative ideas as we work together to plan for a better, brighter future.”

During the meeting, ARC officials also released the results of Metro Atlanta Speaks, a public opinion survey on quality-of-life issues in the region.

The survey showed that crime is the top-perceived issue facing the region, nearly 33% of responders said they are working from home all or most of the time, with another 21% saying they do so occasionally, that four-in-five responders said they had received food assistance from a food pantry or church in the last year and 17% of those who responded said they were “not confident” or “slightly confident” about their ability to make their next rent or mortgage payment.

Cumming and Forsyth County officially became part of the ARC on July 1 after previously being a member of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

Georgia has 12 regional commissions, public agencies set up to “assist local governments on a regional basis and to develop, promote and assist in establishing coordinated and comprehensive planning in the state.”

A move to the ARC from the GMRC has been discussed since at least 2019 by local leaders, including presentations from officials for both commissions describing what they offer.

Forsyth County Commissioners previously said they favored moving to the ARC due to issues such as growth, economic development, transportation and others that are more similar to metro Atlanta counties than those in the northeast corner of the state.

At a previous meeting, Hooker said the ARC offers services including aging and independent services, arts and creative placemaking, community development, leadership building, transportation, economic development and the homeland security coordinator for Gwinnett, DeKalb, Cobb, Fulton and Clayton counties, a federal designation.

The notice stated that the realignment will not affect Forsyth County’s designation as a member of the federal Appalachian Regional Commission.

ARC represents Henry, Cobb, Rockdale, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Douglas, Cherokee, Fulton and Fayette counties, municipalities in those counties and the city of Atlanta.

GMRC is made up of Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin, Union, Towns, White, Hall, Banks, Habersham, Rabun, Stephens, Franklin and Hart counties and its cities.

During the meeting, speakers also presented Hooker with the 2021 Harry West Visionary Leadership Award, attendees heard an update on water resources in the region and projects from several cities were presented regional excellence awards.