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Two Flowery Branch council members get schooled in economic development
Tara Richards and Kris Yardley graduate from Georgia Academy for Economic Development
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Economic development used to be all the rage in Flowery Branch.

Not so much anymore, with the Great Recession taking its toll the past couple of years. But it’s not forgotten — at least for two City Council members who recently graduated from the Georgia Academy for Economic Development.

“It gave us ideas about ways to bring about development,” said Councilman Kris Yardley. “We saw a lot of analysis on what businesses were looking for as far as site location. We did scenarios where we communicated with county commissions and school authorities on getting different projects done.”

He and Councilwoman Tara Richards, who began serving their first four-year terms on Jan. 1, graduated Nov. 10 from the academy.

They were part of a Hall County group taking part in four, one-day-a-month sessions at the Habersham Electric Membership Corp.

Other graduates were Christie Sims of the Hayes James firm in Norcross, Main Street Gainesville Manager Angela Thompson and Ken Roberts of Georgia Power Co.

Class participants represented a number of professional and nonprofessional economic development fields, including elected officials, business leaders and educators from 13 counties in North Georgia.

Created in 1993 by the state, the academy assembles provides economic development training in 12 regions throughout Georgia.

“One of the goals for the multi-day (academies) is to encourage multicounty cooperation,” said Saralyn Stafford, the academy’s executive director. “Many times the participants discover the issues facing their community are the same as those facing other communities in their region and can then combine limited resources to address the issue.”

Yardley said “one particular thing I was interested in was when they talked about downtown development authorities and how they were able to go in and accomplish things.”

Flowery Branch has a development authority but not a group focusing on downtown.

“I think that’s one of the things I would really like to try and focus in on and develop for our area,” said Yardley, a financial adviser and partner in the firm, Fiduciary Capital. “As the city has limited resources and ability, you could probably bring together some people within the community who have a vested interest in seeing the city grow and bring things to that area.”

Richards, a civil engineer with Rochester and Associates in Gainesville, said she believed the academy “did an outstanding job in educating us on the importance of economic development through leadership in our region.”

“They taught us to think beyond Flowery Branch and Hall County to the entire region,” she said. “As community leaders, we learned what tools and resources are available to help attract and retain industry and jobs in our area.”

Before the recession, Flowery Branch was exploding with growth, commercial and residential.

City Manager Bill Andrew has said he believes that era will return as the economy rebounds.

The city is ripe — and has plenty of available land — for such development as a multiscreen theater, more big-box stores and shopping centers, walking trails and downtown roads that provide easy access to Lake Lanier, he said.

“You’re going to be seeing changes in the idea that we’ve got a center of excellence, an environment for excellence really occurring” in different areas of town, Andrew said at a recent meeting of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s South Hall Business Coalition.