CANTON — For many officials, it’s easy to see Cherokee County is moving on a steady path to recovery following the economic slump in recent years.
About 100 business and government leaders from around the county gathered Wednesday in Canton for the Cherokee Office of Economic Development’s Economic Development Forum and heard from officials about the steady growth moving through the county.
Marshall Day, chairman of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, told those in attendance that with recent developments in the county like the Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta and Cabela’s coming soon, things are finally turning around.
“As we are painfully aware, the economy has been the main topic of conversation at the water coolers and in the media and just about everywhere else over the past several years,” Day said. “The landscape, however, is now changing.”
Bilijack Bell, of Wilson, Hull and Neal Real Estate, which was a sponsor for the forum and has worked extensively with Cherokee County, agreed that things are looking better after four “boring” years in economic development.
For the last four years, Bell said the “fun” in development has been “out the door.” But things are now quite different in Cherokee, he said.
“Today, it looks different; it feels different,” Bell said. “The future is much brighter.”
Day said much of the growth can be attributed to many members of the county’s staff who are working diligently to make Cherokee County a “destination of choice” and a “leader in economic development.”
“When good things happen in the field of economic development, it usually means that numerous people are doing a really good job,” he said.
One of those members of staff, Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, presented the crowd Wednesday with the results of a survey of the business climate, which her office has been working on since 2007.
Martin said the results are an indicator of the good health of the economy and “what’s yet to come” for Cherokee County.
In the project, 23 Cherokee manufacturing and distribution companies in the county were surveyed every other year beginning in 2007.
Martin said these companies, which each have between 20 and 40 employees, are reporting substantial expansions, record growth and, most importantly, strong sales numbers.
Compared to results in 2007, sales for the companies surveyed are up 87 percent as of 2013, which Martin said is one of the “most optimistic results to date.”
Thanks to the strong numbers, 78 percent of these businesses plan to expand in the next three years, Martin said.
Martin said the planned expansions are no surprise.
As a general rule, most counties expect about 80 percent of their new growth to come from existing business. But in Cherokee County that number is even higher, Martin said.
“So many people are excited about new companies coming in, but we really need to be taking care of the companies that we have, because they’re producing more investment, more tax base and more quality jobs,” she said.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the environment for business expansion is good.
“We expect that to continue,” he said. “The economy is there. We can provide the means for (them) to do that.”
Cherokee County does however seek to attract the business of newcomers to the county.
During the forum, Steve Holcomb, chairman of the Cherokee County Development Authority, announced that Kennesaw’s Midwest Metals Corp. will be closing up shop in Kennesaw and move to the Majestic Realty development being constructed off Highway 92 in Acworth. The firm, which has 10 employees, will be doubling in size, he said.
So far in 2013, Holcomb said new businesses with more than 660 jobs have been announced in the county, and even more growth is on the horizon.
But Martin said Cherokee is not without challenges.
“We have a great momentum here, but we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.
To keep the momentum going, Martin said the county needs to continue to cultivate new space and opportunities for businesses to come in and must work to keep existing industry from moving out.
Cherokee also needs to take steps to keep its residents in the county.
“We lead the region right now in commuters — over 78 percent,” she said. “We have to fix that.”
The “perception” of the county is another factor on the Cherokee’s radar, Martin said.
Martin said the county has a reputation of being a “great place to live and raise a family.”
“But they need to believe they can have their business here, too,” she said.