Forsyth County, Georgia is in the midst of a population explosion. Located along the scenic shores of Lake Lanier, the affluent Atlanta suburb is one of the fastest growing areas in America…
“We are currently adding 1,000 new homes to Forsyth County each month,” says Robert Long, Vice President of Economic Development for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. At this rate, the county’s population will skyrocket from 220,000 to nearly half a million by 2040. “In 25 years we are expected to double our population. We are in growth mode.”
Lake Lanier helped get the ball rolling. “That started it. Folks in Atlanta were looking for a second home or looking for recreation opportunities on the lake, and we are the closest lake to the city of Atlanta.” Word spread quickly, and soon Forsyth County became the place to be—and for much more than just its water sports. Also known as the gateway to the North Georgia mountains, the community offers a high quality of life overall. “You can go to the lake, you can go to the mountains, you can go to Atlanta. This is a good geographic location.”
The local schools are another major attractor. “We’ve got the best public school system in all of Georgia,” Mr. Long reports. “Some of the top high schools in the nation are in our community.” James McCoy, President & CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, adds, “We have truly world-class schools. People love to say that we have private school quality for a public school price.”
As more people pour into Forsyth County to take advantage of its convenient location, recreational opportunities, and top-notch schools, more dollars flow into the community as well. “We are the most affluent county in all of Georgia,” says Mr. Long. This allows for more investment in the community, pushing the quality of life even higher.
“There has been a really, really strong investment over the years in our park and recreation system,” Mr. McCoy remarks. “We have more park and recreation space per capita than any other community around the region.” Providing ample opportunity for exercise and an outdoor lifestyle has paid off; Forsyth County is the healthiest county in the state. In addition to supporting that outdoor lifestyle, “investment continues to be made both in schools and public facilities, including our library system.”
The county is also investing in its infrastructure. “Two years ago, our community stepped up to spend $200 million of local money that is now being matched by $300 million of state and federal money,” Mr. McCoy reports. “There are a little over 200 miles of road within our county that are under construction. That is all infrastructure for the future and it is very reflective of the [county’s] growth. It also reflects the overall investment the community continues to be willing to make to make sure that the community is growing in a thoughtful, sound, and sustainable way.”
Local leaders are careful to keep taxes low despite the ongoing investment in the community. “Our starting millage rate—which is how you calculate property tax—is quite a bit lower than all the neighboring communities,” Mr. Long points out. “We have more than a 20 percent lower millage rate than the other communities in metro Atlanta.” Keeping the tax rate low is key to attracting more businesses to Forsyth County—and with the residential population skyrocketing, bringing in more business is crucial. “Residential is growing, but we also need to continue to grow the nonresidential, commercial, and industrial side. That is a challenge when we are growing as fast as we are.”
So far, the county’s convenient metro Atlanta location and low tax rate have proved a winning combination. “Georgia has been ranked multiple years in a row as the number one place in the nation to do business,” says Mr. Long. “And our training program, Quick Start, has consistently been ranked number one [or] number two as the best workforce training for new employers coming into a state. The overall business environment is just outstanding in Georgia, and then if you look within Metro Atlanta, we are one of the gems as far as being able to attract quality growth.”
Forsyth County has been particularly adept at attracting foreign corporations and regional or national headquarters. “If you are attracting [the] people who are going to be running regional headquarters, there is an expectation that you are going to have the quality of life and schools to go with it,” Mr. Long explains. Forsyth County more than meets these expectations—and the proof is in the pudding. “We have over 70 international companies that are located here, including quite a few that are their North American headquarters.” German companies have an especially large presence. “We have a good synergy with a lot of German companies.”
The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce works hard to bring in companies that would be a good fit for the community. The team is actively involved in trade shows, site selector meetings, marketing trips, project management meetings—and much more. “There are no county or city government economic developers,” Mr. Long remarks. “The Chamber contracts with the county and city to provide economic development services. Thus, the Chamber is not only the voice of the business community, we are the only voice for the recruitment process of trying to keep companies here [and help them] grow and expand in our area.”
Healthcare is the county’s fastest growing industry, but manufacturing remains its largest. “It is a diverse mix,” says Bruce Hagenau, President of Metcam and Chamber of Commerce Chair. “The last tally I saw showed somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 companies with manufacturing SIC codes in the county.” While the community still has its fair share of traditional manufacturers and food processers, advanced manufacturers specializing in electronics and metalworking are gaining a strong foothold.
This diverse base of global manufacturers helped Forsyth County survive the recent economic downturn. “One of the things that helped us ride out the recession in 2008, 2009 was our emphasis on trying to grow the international, particularly the German, [presence],” Mr. Long remembers. “When we think things are not so great in America, in comparison to economies elsewhere in the world we are still a very good place to invest dollars and jobs—if you go out there and try to achieve that goal. And we have been very successful in doing that.”
In addition to the community’s specific attributes, Forsyth County enjoys a business advantage because of its regional location. “We have the benefit of being in a region of the country where manufacturing overall is expanding,” Mr. Hagenau points out. “The southeastern U.S. is attracting a lot of attention from a wide range of businesses, from heavy equipment like Caterpillar to biopharmaceuticals like Baxter to automotive [companies such as] Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Porsche.”
The state of Georgia stands out within this successful region. Mr. Hagenau explains that when “manufacturers want to locate or relocate within the U.S., the southeast is a region that is of particular interest. Within that, Georgia has done an excellent job creating a business environment that would attract that kind of investment.” And, within this business-attracting state, Forsyth County stands out. “When the economic development wheels in the state start to turn, Forsyth County just seems to attract a lot of attention.”