Job growth remains a top priority for state and local leaders as the economy has slowly shrugged off the Great Recession. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked to top economic recruiters in some of the region’s largest communities to see what challenges they face and where they see opportunity. Their responses were edited for length and clarity.
Senior vice president of economic development & Partnership Gwinnett
Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce
Biggest challenge in persuading companies to relocate:
Our biggest challenge is (office and industrial) inventory. We do not have enough Class A office towers. Also, our advanced manufacturing and supply chain inventory on the southern end of the county and other parts of the county is getting older. The needs of companies 20 and 30 years ago are different than what they are today. We’re clearly not making any more land. Gwinnett is getting closer to the end of its development cycle, and we are fully into redevelopment and we’ve been working on that for four years. If a company wanted 400,000 square feet of office space in Gwinnett County in one location, I don’t have it.
Gwinnett’s biggest selling point is:
Bar none it is our workforce. We have an above-average workforce in our major target industries. In technology we have almost two times the average workforce of a county in the United States. We also have more Georgia Tech alumni — approaching 8,000 Georgia Tech alumni — it’s the most of any place in Georgia, any place in the world.
Corporate and regional headquarters — (that’s) a huge part of our workforce. We have a tremendous amount of (skilled) people, and that’s anyone from a CEO to receptionists and everything in between. It’s a very diverse spectrum of people that work at corporate and regional headquarters.
The change in Gwinnett that has had the most impact on your recruitment efforts:
Our (growing) diversity in regards to businesses. We are a majority-minority community. There is no other community in the Southeastern United States that is more diverse than us by a long shot. We are approaching 600 international-based companies (excluding retailers). It is just amazing where all these different companies are coming from. It was five years ago that (we) first started (examining) that. And it’s led to our global (recruitment) efforts where we’re much more proactive than we were six years ago on a global front.
Development Authority of Fulton County
Biggest challenge in persuading companies to relocate to Fulton:
We have to do a better job with our education system. We have had some challenges with that over the years, more recently with the Atlanta public school system. We’ve (also) had challenges with DeKalb and Clayton County. If it impacts one, it can impact everyone.
Fulton’s biggest selling point is:
We have institutions (nearby) like Georgia Tech, Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine. We have a feeder system as it relates to Clemson and Auburn. We have a highly educated labor pool that provides us a great opportunity to recruit companies. A real sweet spot for us is that we have the world’s most traveled airport in Hartsfield-Jackson, which is a significant component for the metro area and for the state.
The local issue that poses the biggest challenge or opporunity for small-business growth:
Universally, it’s been access to capital. We’re always trying to create programs that would allow easier access to capital for small businesses to not only grow their companies but also thrive.
Clayton County Office of Economic Development
Biggest challenge in persuading companies to relocate to Clayton:
It’s (reassuring) them that as an Atlanta region we’re really tackling the long-term issues: transportation, water. Once they find out we have the water problem solved, it’s not a problem for us; that’s a big step. Big companies do their research, they see the T-SPLOST failed and they see we (ended) our bus system a few years back, and they want to know: “Is traffic going to get better? Are you addressing those long-term concerns?”
What change in Clayton in the past five years has had the most impact on your recruitment efforts:
The International Terminal opened the airport to I-75. It was essentially a new front door to the world’s busiest airport. That’s one of the reasons Porsche cited for coming (to the former Ford site on the Fulton/Clayton line). It’s our calling card.
Clayton’s biggest local rival:
Five years ago we would have answered that question as the ones around us, (but) I’ve never seen as much regional (cooperation) as I’ve seen now. I’ve had other counties call and say “This isn’t something that I can fit …” or the state say “This didn’t end up going here, we were wondering if it’s a fit for (Clayton).” Five years ago that never would have happened.
Cobb County Office of Economic Development
Biggest challenge in persuading companies to relocate to Cobb:
Because Cobb is what we call a “close-in suburban area,” we’re close to a build-out scenario. I think one of the challenges we have as a community is having enough land or space available to accommodate prospects.
Cobb’s biggest selling point is:
It’s a number of factors. For one, it is low taxes and a low cost of living. We have an educated labor force. We have about 44 percent of our residents with a bachelor’s degree. That, coupled with our post-secondary educational institutions, like Kennesaw State, Southern Polytechnic, Life (University), and then we have technical colleges like Chattahoochee Tech. I think also our great location in terms of access to the airport and air travel. I think being 25 minutes to Hartsfield-Jackson International is attractive to companies that do business all over the world.
Outlook for recruiting prospects:
I think we have seen a slight uptick in activity in terms of the number of inquiries we’re getting. When we were in the midst of the recession, people were doing a lot of kicking the tires but wouldn’t pull the trigger. At least now the inquiries are up, and hopefully that will bode well for projects on the ground.
President and CEO
Biggest challenge in persuading companies to relocate to the city of Atlanta:
The biggest challenges for Atlanta are probably our k-12 educational system and transportation.
Atlanta’s biggest selling point is:
Atlanta is a global city. It’s globally connected, it’s globally known. I find in my travels that people might not know where Georgia is on a U.S. map, but they know where Atlanta is. They know where Atlanta is because of the airport, because of Coca-Cola and because of the Olympics, Martin Luther King and the legacy of the civil rights movement. (Other selling points are) our proximity to the Port of Savannah and the airport. You can reach 80 percent of the U.S. population within a two-hour flight. Then switch over to quality of life and cost of living, speaking as someone who has lived in other parts of the country, these are extraordinarily attractive things and why we have people moving here from the Northeast.
Local political moves that have had the biggest impact on recruitment:
I think the mayor and City Council have set the necessary pre-conditions for growth. These are things like pension reform, increasing the police force, dealing with infrastructure issues, building the $1 billion international terminal at the airport, moving forward with things like the (Atlanta) Streetcar and Beltline. It’s fiscal stability and building the city’s reserves. If a company is going to say, “Look I’m going to pick up my business and move to Atlanta,” they want to know the local city that they’re moving to is stable — fiscally stable — and can take care of itself.