For decades now, Gwinnett County has been among the fastest growing counties in the state and even the nation. The dramatic growth that began in the 1970s has been sustained at enviable levels, fueled by an outstanding educational system, affordable housing and cost of living, and an impressive list of quality of life features that include an award-wining parks system and thriving arts, entertainment and sports options.
Taken together, it’s no surprise that Gwinnett gets top marks on every conceivable live, work and play measurement.
Essential to that formula is a progressive and supportive business climate for companies of all sizes and Gwinnett County Government leaders are committed to ensuring that our business climate has a positive forecast. In January, the county launched a new Office of Economic Development with a singular mission.
“The new Office of Economic Development has been assembled to engage directly with existing and prospective businesses to make certain that county government is working alongside them to ensure their success. This initiative places local government directly into the community, doing what it can to partner with small, medium and large businesses to create the kind of positive business climate that fosters prosperity and job growth,” says County Administrator Glenn Stephens.
“It’s about making Gwinnett County the best place to do business, and that benefits every person who lives, works or visits here,” he adds.
The office includes three Economic Development Managers, all with prior economic development experience within the county. Each manager will focus on a different aspect of a comprehensive strategy to attract and retain business and industry.
- Mark Farmer will concentrate on Emerging Markets, including entrepreneurship and small business as well as the technology and innovation business sectors.
- Shantell Wilson will prioritize Strategic Clusters, including manufacturing, supply chain management, healthcare and life sciences, and professional and corporate services.
- Roman Dakare will manage Global Commerce and Economic Analysis, including global outreach, research and redevelopment.
However, every member of the team will have one shared goal, says Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash. “A primary focus for the team is small business. Small businesses are important because they create most of the jobs in the U.S., and the same holds true locally here in Gwinnett County.”
“Following the downturn a decade ago, Gwinnett’s small businesses recovered at a stronger rate than the state and the nation, indicating a fertile environment for entrepreneurship,” explains Nash. “As a result, we are now more accessible to our small business community such that we can better engage them, understand their needs, implement regulation changes and provide resources where necessary.”
There will also be a focus on entrepreneurship. “We want to create an environment that fosters start-ups,” says Farmer.
The team will work in concert with local partners and city officials. “The county has always been involved in economic development,” says Farmer, “but this is a different approach. We’re excited to be crafting a strategy from the ground up.”
“We want to be very pro-active and forward-thinking in our actions. In many ways, we’re already 20 years ahead of many communities and we want to continue that futuristic thinking,” says Wilson.
A thoughtful approach is also warranted, adds Dakare. “Our top priority is smart growth, and in some areas, that will mean addressing re-development opportunities. We want to be forward thinking in our approach.”
While attracting new businesses to the county is always a priority, supporting existing businesses is equally important. “Our goal is to build stronger relationships with our existing businesses and learn what they need from us to be successful and to continue that success. We want to be able to provide them the resources they need — from workforce training to incentives,” says Wilson.
“We’re here to be a liaison between the business community and county government,” says Farmer. “The pace of change is so rapid, we want to stay nimble and be able to adjust as things change.”
The emphasis may be on helping business and industry, but the impact is far broader. “As we increase prosperity for the county, that has a halo effective for our citizens,” explains Farmer. “It enables the county to provide more to the community.”
“Our citizens are the ultimate stakeholders,” concludes Dakare. “We want to make this a great place to do business and a great place to live.”