Cherokee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Buzz Ahrens told the crowd of about 250 that the county will work to build competitive advantage this year. Four main factors contribute to the county’s competitive advantage, Ahrens said: fiscal integrity, quality growth, economic development and environmental stewardship.
The county now has the highest financial rating in its history and is operating on a cash basis without having to borrow money to meet expenses, Ahrens said.
A recent airport expansion, the construction of a new Northside Hospital facility and the anticipated Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta are three key economic projects for Cherokee County, Ahrens said. The outlet shops are equidistant from Dawsonville and Calhoun, other outlet centers in north Georgia.
“We have corporate jet space now,” Ahrens said of the airport. “That’s good for the tax digest. The airport is getting 600 visitors a month, and they’re buying fuel, looking for business.”
Ahrens praised Northside as a “terrific community partner.”
“Their investment will serve this county’s need for the long term,” he said.
Northside has not yet broken ground on the new facility off Highway 20, but road construction is under way.
“That was a joint effort between Northside, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the county and the city of Canton,” Ahrens said. “The road had basically lost its funding, but we got it back.”
County accomplishments in 2012 include implementing an employee wellness program and cutting Emergency medical Services response times by about 30 percent.
Ahrens said he would like to see the county land a major economic development win in 2013, along with pursuing other initiatives like opening the county’s aquatic center and fire training center and finding an operator for Ball Ground Recycling.
“You’ve got to keep raising the bar,” he said.
Jeff Watkins, director of planning and zoning for the county, gave a brief overview of the Development Services Center and talked about increases in the number of building permits and other activity.
Michael Paris, CEO of the Council for Quality Growth, said he encourages other governments to look at the Development Services Center as an example of quality, efficient service.
“What has been done upstairs (in the DSC) is a model for working through the system. Everybody in Cherokee County should be proud,” he said.
“It cuts time and money for the customer,” Watkins said.
The center also saved money for the county in 2012. The county spent $77 in postage costs associated with the permitting and licensing done through the DSC in 2012. In 2009, the county spent $5,500.
Watkins said 230 building permits were issued in January, a marked increase from December’s number. Projections show that the county should issue about 2,700 permits this year, both residential and commercial.
“There has been a lot of residential activity lately, which is good,” he said.
Projected revenue from building permits for 2013 is $670,000, the highest revenue since 2008.
Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, also praised the DSC as an important economic development tool.
“The reputation Cherokee County has with businesses that come in depends on the last thing that happened. How quick could they get their permits?” she said.
COED worked with 62 projects last year, including 27 film and video projects. The office fielded more than 9,500 inquiries.
Cherokee County’s existing industries saw a successful year in 2012, Martin said. Thirteen existing industries expanded last year, investing more than $22.6 million and creating 365 new jobs. More than 80 percent of new job growth and investment in Cherokee County came from existing industries in 2012.
In 2012, seven new companies located in Cherokee County, bringing $4 million in capital investment and 90 jobs.
An Opportunity Zone was designated in northern Cherokee County in 2012. With Canton, Ball Ground and the county included, it is the state’s first multi-jurisdictional Opportunity Zone. Businesses creating jobs within an Opportunity Zone are eligible for enhanced tax credits.
Martin said COED is “going to do everything we can” to lower Cherokee County’s commuting rate. About 80 percent of county residents currently leave the county for work.
The Council for Quality Growth, the organization putting on the event, is a not-for-profit trade association with members including developers, contractors, engineers, bankers and others with an interest in growth and development in metro Atlanta.