Bernardi at helm of Johns Creek's economic development

New JC Advantage president/CEO maps out growth strategies

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Johns Creek Advantage – the city’s public-private economic development corporation – has successfully completed its fundraising campaign, and new JCA President and Chief Executive Officer Courtney Bernardi has signed on to crank the engine and start growing businesses and jobs in the city.

Bernardi, formerly the head of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development, came aboard in January to begin the city’s economic development efforts.

With a war chest of $1.4 million (see sidebar Page 8), Bernardi is ready to hit the ground running. In her new position, it will be her job to bring in new businesses while retaining the 2,500 existing businesses in the city.

“We will be implementing a plan with five strategies to improve the city’s business and economic outlook. Not only business attraction and retention – but recruiting new business is always Job One,” Bernardi said.

That means recruiting to the city’s strengths. She ticks them off with ease:

• The city’s overall quality of life.

• Fabulous schools.

• Low crime rate.

• Educated workforce – 94 percent high school diploma; 64 percent college degree or higher.

• High value homes with average family income of $132,000.

• The city is 8 miles from Ga. 400, 10 miles from Interstate 85 and 45 minutes from the busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Johns Creek won’t be recruiting a large number of companies with large employee bases. But the city is attractive to regional and national headquarters and health care-related companies, Bernardi said.

“Alcon and State Farm have a large presence here, and we love that. But that is not our primary targeted market. We have the things headquarters want – those quality of life issues,” she said.

The things Johns Creek is best known for all relate to quality of life issues – golf, a city orchestra and arts center and dance and music studios. These are amenities many areas do not have. It’s not like you can order them up, Bernardi said.

These typically bring high-salary white collar jobs, which in turn have a larger effect on the city’s existing economy.

“What you won’t see is big-box manufacturing coming here. So we will tailor our message for the kinds of businesses we see as a fit in Johns Creek,” Bernardi said.

This will be small businesses, especially entrepreneurial technology companies.

“Steve Jobs and Bill Gates started their companies in their garages,” she said.

The JCA will also have an “opportunity fund” to deal with unforeseen opportunities and challenges that require a quick reaction. This allows the JCA to respond without jeopardizing other initiatives or forcing the JCA to go back again and again to its supporters.

“It gives us flexibility to meet the unknowns,” she said.

Bernardi’s first project will be to “create a presence” for Johns Creek to show business locators that the city is a viable participant when they look at locations in Georgia.

“We will start with the state’s economic development arm and the utilities such as Georgia Power and Georgia EMC,” she said. “We have to let them know that Johns Creek is not only an eager participant, but that we can handle things when they come looking.

“We have to display what our plusses are – what we have to sell to a business looking to relocate,” Bernardi said.

First up is building a “killer” website that will show the city is a player and has a good story to tell about itself.

“We also have to let state economic developers know we are united with the city to recruit new businesses. When they see we have skin the game – have an active and vigorous economic development effort,” she said.

What Bernardi said the JCA will ultimately create is what she called a climate for success.