Transportation, workforce head list of trials facing business group
NORTH FULTON, GA – February 13, 2017 – With the surge in business growth over the past several years, the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce has worked to keep the climate ripe for economic expansion.
Few areas in Metro Atlanta have seen over the last 25 years the influx of commercial interests one sees in North Fulton.
In Alpharetta alone, the city has filled up more than 4 million square feet of vacant office space in just the past few years, according to Peter Tokar, Alpharetta director of Economic Development.
Similar trends can be found in neighboring North Fulton cities, where good schools, high quality of life and ascending property values hold sway.
Yet, with that growth, come challenges, said Roger Lusby, chairman of the Greater North Fulton Chamber.
Lusby, Alpharetta office managing partner for the giant Frazier & Deeter accounting firm, said the chamber’s mission is to gather the varied business interests in the area and focus on common goals.
“I think the mantra really is creating jobs and creating business for each of the members,” he said. “We do that through a number of different ways. We do that through some very structured committees, which workforce placement and technology have been two of our biggest.”
Workforce development focuses on developing and ensuring that the area provides an adequate workforce for the significant number of companies that exist and are moving to the area, he said.
Indeed, the chamber has logged more than 1,000 new jobs created over the past year by corporate expansions or relocations. But, that’s only part of the story.
“I think always the untold story is the number of workers added through expansion in existing businesses,” Lusby said. “It may be only two or three or five positions, but those never really get captured in those reports.
“But, that’s really small business working at its best, and that is really what is behind the economic growth in the entire country.”
The two industry groups identified as needing the most assistance are the health care sector and the technology sector, he said.
The Technology Committee is vital to the 900-plus technology companies that are in North Fulton, Lusby said. And the recent growth in health care facilities makes training in that field equally important.
“I would say the growth of businesses is expanding at such a rate that the workforce will not be able to keep pace without us stepping in and doing a better job of promoting and making sure that that does not become an issue,” he said.
To that end, Lusby said the chamber promotes expansion of post-secondary education in the area such as the new Gwinnett Tech campus in Alpharetta.
“Gwinnett Tech was huge,” he said. “So, working with them is important. We’d love to have a four-year college up here in this area if that were ever possible.
“Georgia State has some classrooms up here, and we try to get them more involved. We’ve tried to get North Georgia College to come farther south and get them more involved.”
The high caliber of high schools in the area has helped, he said.
Another area of focus is transportation.
Lusby said the recent appointment of state Sen. Brandon Beach to chair the legislative Transportation Committee was a major step in the direction of helping solve North Fulton’s transportation needs.
Beach is also executive director of the Greater North Fulton Chamber.
“Certainly everybody up here would be in agreement that Ga. 400 and some of the East-West road systems need to be enhanced and improved immediately,” Lusby said.
The passage last November of the .75-cent transportation special purpose sales tax will go a long way in fixing some of the problems, he said.
“I don’t know where they are with getting the additional one-quarter of a penny, but I’m sure that will be brought back up to the voters at some point in time,” Lusby said.
In the long run, though, the chairman said North Fulton must make itself appealing not only to businesses but to residents as well.
“We’re really trying to come up with a ‘cool factor,’ in which kids coming out of college would want to live and locate up here,” he said. “Housing is an issue, because housing tends to be expensive here. Although Forsyth has done a good job in reaching price points for people, I think with Avalon and so forth we would like to have a lot of the young people locate and work in this area.”
Lusby said his firm has a big downtown Atlanta office with about 200 people, and young employees seem to be drawn to the glamour of downtown living.
“I came out to run the Alpharetta firm which has about 26 people,” he said. “So, we encounter that same issue just within our firm.
“Most of the kids coming out of college want to come and work for the big office in downtown Atlanta and live downtown, as opposed to coming out here. Once they get married and have kids, I’ve got them all lining up to come out here.”
The same goes for other business sectors.
“The technology companies especially are concerned about this issue since their workforce tends to be younger,” he said.