The Times reported last week that Gainesville issued a record number of building permits in 2015.
But the banner year for commercial growth was not limited to the city limits, according an annual report from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
“The success we are experiencing speaks to the broad participation in this community’s economic development effort from the business community, educators, our partners and elected leadership,” Brian Rochester, executive vice president of Rochester & Associates, a Gainesville land development and engineering firm, said in a press release.
The chamber’s economic development council reports that 2015 was the single biggest year for capital investment across the county, with 24 new and existing projects announcing investments worth more than $320 million.
And with more than 1 million square feet of new construction coming to the county, Chamber leaders said they expect about 1,100 new jobs to follow.
Tim Evans, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development, told The Times that new commercial growth from South Hall north up Ga. 365 comes in many forms, helping to stabilize the local economy.
For example, manufacturers such as Kubota and Wrigley complement new retail stores like Hobby Lobby and Academy Sports + Outdoors in Gainesville.
There are also those in the food processing business, such as King’s Hawaiian in Oakwood, and a beer brewer in Gainesville.
And Evans said that doesn’t take into account new investments in parks, such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden, A Smithgall Woodland Legacy, in Gainesville; renovations to the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue and facility additions to Don Carter State Park.
All this means big revenues from impact fees for local governments, which help support public safety operations and local libraries.
“Our population is growing at 1.6 percent per year,” Evans said. “In addition to job creation, investment and construction, Gainesville-Hall County’s economy is benefiting from an increase in the homebuying market and residential development.”
This growth has dropped the unemployment rate for the Gainesville metropolitan area to its lowest level since April 2008.
The rate declined to 4.2 percent in November, the lowest of any region in Georgia, down from 4.7 percent the month before and from 5.2 percent during the same period in 2014.
In the past year, the Gainesville area has gained 1,200 jobs, a growth rate of 1.5 percent. Most of those job gains were in retail, manufacturing and construction.
“The outlook for 2016 and beyond is headed in a good direction for the Gainesville-Hall County metropolitan area,” Kit Dunlap, President and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber, said in the release. “Many of the business expansions announced in 2015 will be hiring in 2016 and 2017, and for consecutive years, unemployment in Hall County has been on a steady decline.”
Keeping this trend going is part of the mission of the Chamber’s workforce development program, which connects students in local high schools, colleges and universities with employers.
“The mission is to ensure businesses can acquire the talent and skills they need for future growth and to replace an aging workforce,” Evans said.
And with the relocation of Lanier Technical College to a new and bigger campus along Ga. 365 by 2018, this pipeline becomes even more critical.
One major caveat exists, however: The need for new affordable housing development to keep up with demands of growing population.
The Chamber reports that new private residential development is increasingly responding to the demand for quality housing to meet the workforce needs of the future.
But with 75 active projects and several additional project expansions pending in the first months of 2016, Evans said the area’s economic development pipeline is at an “encouraging level.”