On Tuesday, Hall County joined nine other Northeast Georgia counties and 84 across the state as an "Entrepreneur Friendly" community.
"That designation says we care about small business and want to see them succeed," said Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has been working with the Georgia Department of Economic Development for eight months to attain the designation, which is a statewide measure of the county’s openness to small business and entrepreneurs.
Previously designated Northeast Georgia counties include Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin and White. The neighboring counties of Banks and Dawson are in the process of designation.
"This says welcome to all businesses," said Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras. "It’s great for someone just coming into the county to know we are a welcoming community."
Under the review program, the county analyzed its entrepreneurial and small business environment and developed strategies to foster their growth. The county also underwent a full-day assessment by a team from the Economic Development department, the Department of Community Affairs, Georgia Tech, the Cornelia Better Hometown Program and the Hartwell Downtown Development Authority.
Small businesses with less than 20 employees make up 91 percent of the 6,539 companies in Hall County.
"It lets them know that Hall County is behind them 100 percent," said Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack. "It’s something we’ve been doing, we’re just getting the recognition."
Under the designation, qualified entrepreneurs and small business owners in Hall are now eligible for customized market data, such as demographic and business information.
The county becomes eligible for an Entrepreneur-Friendly Implementation Fund grant to help start specific, long-term programs that support entrepreneurs and small business and have a regional impact. The grant must be matched 50 percent in dollars or in-kind value by the community. Suzanne Browne of the Department of Economic Development told a group at the chamber offices on Tuesday that a significant amount of work had gone into the designation effort.
"None of this is new to (Hall County)," Browne said. "They’ve been working with small business for years. Hall County has been entrepreneur friendly for a very long time."