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Economic council targets job growth as top 2013 goal
Gainesville-Hall County partnership targets business expansion
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A $100 million investment, 500 jobs and 100 acres of new commercial/industrial space with infrastructure for businesses — those are the fiscal year 2013 objectives for the Gainesville-Hall County Economic Development Council.

A Google search won’t bring up much information about the council, whose purpose is to help create jobs and grow the local economy. It’s a public-private partnership started in 1992 with the Gainesville City Council, the Hall County Board of Commissioners and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. The development council’s work is often highly secretive because the deals can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and the competition is cutthroat.

“We use code names for companies,” said Bill Andrew, city manager for Flowery Branch and a member of the council. “Sometimes we don’t even know who the company is.”

But with the eyes of state leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, fixed on bringing more jobs to Georgia, councils like this one are getting more focus. They make some of the big moves that land new industries like Atlanta Biologicals, Bitzer International and Kubota Tractor Corp.

The council’s finances are divided so that funding from public partners goes toward marketing and sales efforts, said Tim Evans, vice president for economic development for the chamber and also a member of council staff.

Hall County, Gainesville and the chamber contribute $130,000 a year, while Oakwood and Flowery Branch kick in $15,000 annually. The council has 50 members or fewer and includes representatives from the chamber, Lanier Technical College, Georgia Power Co., the Gainesville and Hall school districts and at-large members from the real estate community, small business and other development authorities. It meets once a month.

The development council also has an investment assistance committee to evaluate and recommend incentives to proposed economic development projects. The council’s marketing plan for 2013 targets specific sectors to pursue, including business headquarters and the automotive, medical device and financial services industries.

“Incentives can be effective, but I become concerned when it’s the first thing a company considers,” Evans said.

The committee has criteria for projects that include a business investment of least $7.5 million, an average worker wage that should be above the average for manufacturing employees already working in the county and a company that offers medical benefits to all of its employees. Out of 24 projects last year, only two to three companies met the criteria, Evans said.

A couple of other organizations also enter into the process. The Hall County Development Authority is a quasi-governmental entity that handles bond transactions, such as financing projects, developing industrial parks and conducting real estate transactions, Evans said. The development authority and the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority meetings are open to the public.

The city’s redevelopment authority allows the city to take advantage of Georgia’s law that gives cities and counties specific powers to rehabilitate, conserve or redevelop any defined geographical area that is designated as a “slum area.”

“The EDC and the (Gainesville Redevelopment and Hall County Development authorities) help us know what’s happening with different properties and trends,” Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said.

Job retention and creation will continue in 2013 to be a top priority, according to the marketing plan.

The 2012 Economic Development Report from the chamber of commerce said that Gainesville and the Hall County area saw 1,232 new jobs, retained 742 existing jobs and generated $164 million in capital investment.