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Our Views: Celebrating a season of progress
New Braselton hospital is clear sign of Halls economic rebound from recession
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Hospital open house

When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton, 1400 River Place, off Ga. 347, about 1 mile west of Ga. 211

Look for coverage throughout the week, including a special section of Wednesday’s opening in print and at gainesvilletimes.com.

Spring brings its annual renewal of life and hope, symbolized by the warm sunshine, green sprouts on the trees and the miracle of Easter.

Each year at this time, we celebrate this renewal and our community’s progress with our annual Progress special sections, which are found inside today’s edition. The stories included mark a year of business, government and educational success.

However, in recent years during the peak and fallout from the Great Recession, the region’s economic health hinged more on promise than real progress during slumps in housing, employment and business growth.

But the wait appears to be over for that hope to finally take root. With jobless numbers at their lowest mark in years and new business opportunities sprouting all over, Northeast Georgia is clearly back on the march.

Nothing in 2015 symbolizes Hall County’s forward momentum more than the Northeast Georgia Health System’s new hospital opening this week in Braselton.

The 100-bed hospital will employ some 900 people earning an average of $70,000 to $80,000 each, and serve as a hub for business growth along Ga. 347 near Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway, with satellite health and other commercial outlets planned. It will further cement Hall County’s growing reputation as a “wellness destination,” in conjunction with the main Medical Center campus in Gainesville along with numerous other health providers in the area.

“We hope this community will be as proud of this state-of-the-art hospital as we are,” Health System CEO Carol Burrell said at a pre-opening reception Thursday. “It stands as a testament of what can be done when we all work together.”

The $114 million hospital, nearly a decade in the planning and construction, is Georgia’s first all-new hospital to open in nearly 20 years. It will offer a wide array of services linked to the latest technology, including outpatient surgery, cardiology, oncology, orthopedics and neurosciences as well as providing a second location for emergency services in the rapidly growing area in South Hall and West Jackson counties. Future plans include an obstetrics unit to bring new Hall County residents into the world.

While Hall County’s economic base remains widely diversified among agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and retail sectors, the image of Gainesville as the Poultry Capital of the World endures. However, now in addition to chickens, the county can wear the badge of the caduceus as a nexus for residents throughout Northeast Georgia to seek the latest and best health services.

The new hospital is only the newest and brightest star on the region’s growth horizon. The year began with the opening of the new Georgia Poultry Lab in its new 39,500-square-foot home, relocated from its aging Oakwood locale as anchor of the Gateway Industrial Centre in North Hall County, a business center likely to draw many more clients in the months to come.

And making its debut a month from now will be the Atlanta Botanical Garden Gainesville: A Smithgall Woodland Legacy, a new visitors magnet north of Gainesville off U.S. 129 on 168 acres of scenic woodland donated by Lessie and Charles Smithgall, founders of The Times. Mrs. Smithgall, who turns 104 on Wednesday, will be on hand for the May 2 opening at the site, which includes a stunning amphitheater amid winding pathways decorated with botanical beauty.

Several other existing businesses in the area are expanding their operations and adding more good-paying jobs, one of the reason metro Gainesville and Hall County have the state’s lowest regional unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, almost a full percentage point below the same period of last year.

The area’s retail growth continues with new restaurants, stores and other businesses, evidenced by all the “coming soon” signs seen along major thoroughfares into town.

This job growth is reflected in the recent recognition of Gainesville as the fifth-hardest-working city in the U.S. by www.badcredit.org, based on statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. Of course, local residents work hard because they have places TO work.

The area also is cementing its reputation as a place to train those workers. Enrollment continues to grow at the University of North Georgia, Lanier Tech and Brenau University, providing the thinkers and doers needed to fill the jobs of the future.

Northeast Georgia’s winter gloom of home foreclosures, job losses and an economy stuck in the cold mud has passed. Each new ribbon-cutting offers a new green shoot of growth, jobs and prosperity, with more expected to follow.

This spring, we are indeed making progress, and there’s no turning back now.

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