Speaking to the crowd at the Cherokee Conference Center, Ahrens talked about the many developments and jobs that sprang up around the county in 2013, recalling it as another year of “raising the bar.”
“We want Cherokee County to be the choice in metro Atlanta to live, work and visit,” Ahrens said. “It’s real simple. That’s our vision and we’re headed in that direction.”
Ahrens said new business investment numbers in Cherokee County saw a “big jump” in 2013.
“We hope that’s the trend,” he said. “Economic development remains the No. 1 priority. We’re pushing hard.”
The county is also pushing for better infrastructure to improve the quality of life for Cherokee County residents, Ahrens said.
In 2013, developments like the Cherokee County Aquatic Center, new fire and public safety training centers and an expansion of the county airport’s runway were important to that goal, and so far getting the job done, Ahrens said.
“We’re getting 500, 600 visitors per month (at the airport),” the chairman said. “Those are good numbers.”
Other numbers also showed improvement in 2013.
“Permits are up, licenses are up, foreclosures are way down,” Ahrens said.
The chairman said all these and many other factors, such as the county’s “outstanding” public safety departments, add to make it so the developments in 2013 aren’t coincidental.
But Ahrens said there is some work to be done in the new year to ensure the county continues on an uphill path.
“We need to build the reserves a little more (and) get a little more stability, a little more predictability,” he said “But we had our first quarter (financial) update and we’re definitely on track for this year.”
Ahrens said the county also needs to brace for growth, particularly for what he said is expected to be a large increase in the aging population.
“Cherokee County’s projected growth of 55-plus between now and 2030 is double the metro region,” he said.
Today, Ahrens said Cherokee County has about 30,000 residents older than 55, about 15 percent of the total population, but by 2030 about 25 percent of the county’s population is expected to be in that age group.
“I think that spells opportunity,” he said. “(But) there’s a whole bunch of things that need to happen (first).”
With economic development Cherokee’s No. 1 goal, Ahrens said he was pleased to have Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, update the crowd on some of the county’s progress in the last year.
“It really has been an award-winning year, for many reasons,” Martin said. “340 percent increase in job creation from 2012 to 2013, over 2,000 jobs created or announced in 2013, over $220 million in investment, 730 percent increase in investment from 2012 to 2013,” Martin said. “As you can see, those are staggering numbers.”
Besides positive developments in 2013, such as Inalfa Roofing System’s new facility and the Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta, Martin said Cherokee County’s existing industries also had a good year, showing the “most optimistic results to date.”
In 2013, existing industry announced or committed $67 million in capital investment and more than 300 new jobs, Martin said. She added that 87 percent of existing industry reported an increase in sales and 78 percent of existing companies have plans for expansion in the next three years.
But Martin said with so much prospective production coming into the county, more sites are going to be needed.
“We have to increase our sites, and we have to increase our available buildings,” she said. “We can market all day long, but if we don’t have a place to put them, it’s not going to happen.”
Martin said many TV shows and movies were filmed in Cherokee County in 2013, which was the highest ranking year to date for filming in the county.
More positives were on the way, Martin said, with Northside Hospital-Cherokee’s plans to build a $250 million near Canton Marketplace, outdoor gear retailer Cabela’s work to build in Acworth and other coming developments.
One development Martin sees as a huge potential for growth is the Cherokee 75 Corporate Park, where Inalfa has started operations.
“Our prospect activity has been unbelievable,” she said.
Martin credited the opportunity zone the park sits in for the interest, as within those zones businesses get tax breaks.
Other opportunity zones in the county, such as the one surrounding The Bluffs in Canton, are also primed for growth, she said.
“We are definitely chasing deals all over the county,” she said.