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Opinion: National rankings show what we all know — our local economy is something to be proud of
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Downtown Gainesville is seen from a plane window on Thursday, June 27, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

After months of trials and tribulations, pandemics and politics, chaos and controversy, it is nice to be able to bask in a bit of good news.

The economic engine that drives Hall County is purring along quite nicely, thank you.

In a report issued late last month, the Milken Institute noted that the Gainesville-Hall County area was among the best small metropolitan areas in the nation in terms of economic development, putting it again in the nation’s top 10, at number 9.

Then in March, Site Selection magazine found that of the metropolitan areas in the nation with a population under 200,000, our area was tied for sixth in terms of “major capital investments in corporate end user facilities within a given core-based statistical area.”

The two studies just reinforce what we know. Our area is attractive to businesses, and reaps the benefits from being so. A year like the one we’ve just suffered, with economic instability worldwide, helps to make it even more obvious a strong local economy is an incredible benefit to the quality of life that we are all guilty of taking for granted.

Take the availability of jobs, for example.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

At the end of 2020, the unemployment rate for the Hall County statistical area was 3.7%. The national average at the time was 6.5%. For comparison’s sake, the highest unemployment rate in the nation at the end of December was the El Centro, California, statistical area, at a stunning 17.7%. At the time, some 20 metropolitan statistical areas had rates higher than 10%; nine of those were in California.

To have an unemployment rate under 4% after months of an international health crisis that shuttered companies worldwide is an incredible testament to the strength of the local business community.

The Milken Foundation ranking is especially impressive in that it incorporates a number of different key factors, including things such as job and wage growth over multiple years, growth in the high-tech sector, broadband accessibility and housing affordability, which continues to be a problem for Hall County and many of the other communities making the Top 10 list for “small cities.”

Gainesville was 8th in the rankings for 2020, 9th for 2021, having swapped positions with Sebastian, Florida. The top small city ranked by Milken was Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Building a strong economic foundation for a community does not happen by accident. The Milken report notes that those cities that did well in the rankings “combine steady growth on one hand and dynamic innovation on the other.”

The strength of the local economy is impacted by a number of diverse factors here in Hall County. Among them is the constant pursuit of positive job creation and business growth by the economic development efforts of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with support from government officials at the state and county level. The existence of Lanier Technical College and the potential it brings for training specialized workforces. The quality of public schools, the existence of a superb regional health care system, the blessings of geography that include proximity to interstates, to the city of Atlanta, and of course to the beautiful allure of Lake Lanier.

Like art, “quality of life” is a difficult concept to define, but people know it when they see it. It is here for those businesses that want to look.

And while crystal ball gazing to predict long-term economic performance is a pursuit fraught with the potential for failure, the future certainly appears bright for the area in terms of quality job growth. Last year saw new major corporate facilities like Amazon and Agile Cold Storage come to the area, while existing industries expanded.

And there’s more on the horizon, like the $125 million expansion announced by Cottrell, and the fact that companies like Makita are looking to locate here.

Add to the mix the fact that Georgia’s inland port in Hall County is expected to open soon, providing a direct rail link to the port of Savannah and improving the flow of manufactured goods to and from the entire Northeast Georgia area, and it is hard not to be excited about what the future may bring to an already powerful local economy.

The area’s economic development picture is bright indeed, which means better jobs, higher wages, lower taxes, a better standard of living and better communities. That is the kind of good news we all need to get beyond the doom and gloom of a tough year.

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