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Economic development report gives hope to local economy

POSTED: March 14, 2014 12:36 a.m.

On the heels of releasing its 2014 economic development report, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce on Thursday requested $136,000 in funding from the city of Gainesville for the 2015 fiscal year.

The funding, if approved, would represent a 5 percent increase from the current fiscal year and is aimed at supporting the chamber’s economic development efforts, which include recruiting and retention of businesses.

“We’ve had this partnership with the chamber for years and years,” said Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett. “We’ve had great success with ZF Wind Power, things happening in Oakwood, and everything happening in our industrial parks.”

The chamber is requesting the same amount from Hall County and its own private investment arm, HALLmark. Other cities in the county typically pitch in much smaller amounts.

HALLmark has more than 150 business investors committing about $2.3 million in the chamber’s five-year economic development plan ending next year. That plan seeks 1,700 new jobs, $60 million in new payroll and $250 million in capital investment.

“I think we’re going to far exceed those goals,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the chamber.

If last year is any indication, the chamber’s economic development programs have been successful in helping to spur new development and growth throughout Hall County.

According to the chamber’s economic development report, nearly 1,000 jobs were created last year with the expansion of existing businesses and opening of new ones, generating an estimated $180 million in capital investment across the county.

This news was tempered a bit Thursday with the release of jobless figures that show the unemployment rate in metro Gainesville rising to 5.9 percent in January from 5.7 percent in December.

But recent growth in the small-business sector is a positive sign, Evans said.

“We’ve had steady business growth for the last several years,” he added. “But the thing that’s really different now is we have more small businesses expanding.”

One of these businesses is REP Inc., a distributor and service provider for positive displacement blowers and vacuum pumps. The company recently made a multimillion dollar expansion into a 10-acre site at Gainesville Industrial Park West.

Business and industrial parks are “critical to supporting your existing industry, as well as attracting new businesses,” Evans said.

Big gains were made across many business sectors last year, the chamber reports.

The building of the new Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Braselton will provide a new anchor in South Hall, while new tourism draws like Don Carter State Park will help lure visitors to the area.

Education also is important to economic development. Record enrollments at local universities mean a robust workforce that can immediately contribute to the local economy.

Moreover, specialized training programs such as those offered at Lanier Technical College’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center provide needed skills for the existing workforce.

“Continuing education is more important than ever,” Evans said.


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