FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County is vibrant, thriving and ready to assume its position as leader in the global marketplace, Board of Commission Chairman Pete Amos said.
The remarks were part of the annual State of the Community address and luncheon held May 2 at the Forsyth Conference Center, 3410 Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
“At every turn, you can see the signs of progress throughout our county,” Amos said.
City of Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Darla Light were also speakers at the event, which is put together by the Council for Quality Growth and the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce.
Mason Zimmerman, board chairman for the Council for Quality Growth and senior vice president of Pope & Land Enterprises, who emceed the event, said Cumming and Forsyth County have come a long way from 20 years ago.
Zimmerman said from infrastructure to leadership and real estate, “look at all you have accomplished.”
Linda Cole, chairwoman of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce board of directors and senior vice president of operations at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite, said from a chamber perspective, the year has started right. Since the beginning of the year, six projects have been brought to the county and will generate about 100 jobs and $5 million in capital investment.
“For the first four months of 2013, we’re off to a great start,” Cole said.
Last year was also good, with nine new companies moving to the area and nine companies that expanded, generating about 762 new jobs and $71 million in capital investments.
Amos spoke about parks and recreation amenities, the new 158,000-square foot courthouse and 170,000-square foot jail, which will begin construction in July. He spoke about strides in public safety, including new fire stations in Ducktown and Matt community and five additional outdoor severe weather sirens – bringing the total number of sirens to 17.
“Our community certainly has not been exempt from the economic challenges facing communities nationwide; however, thanks to the steadfast commitment of business leaders like you, our economic fabric has continued to expand and we have seen impressive investments by critical business sectors,” Amos said.
Gravitt, who has been the mayor of Cumming for 44 years, said finances for the city have “never been better.”
He said the financial situation and the economy in Cumming and Forsyth continues to grow and lead the region in low unemployment. Gravitt said the city has completed a $32 million wastewater facility and said a $17 million water intake facility on Lake Lanier will provide water for Cumming and Forsyth County for the next 50 years. He also spoke about the new the 106,000-square-foot Georgia Army National Guard’s readiness center in Cumming near the Aquatic Center on Pilgrim Mill Road, which is scheduled to be complete in the fall this year.
“We have a great economic output,” Gravitt said.
Gravitt said education has been a strong hand for the county and with the University of North Georgia’s campus, the community gained another advantage.
The campus opened last year, expecting 400 students, and is inching closer to 800, Gravitt said.
“Hopefully this will work out great for years to come for higher education,” he said.
About 8,000 new students have been added to the school district in the last five years, a video presented at the event said. Six new schools have been opened, bringing the total to 35 schools, in addition to a virtual school; however, the operational budget has not increased.
Forsyth County Schools boasts the lowest tax rate in metro-Atlanta and lowest expenditure per child. In addition, for the first time in 15 years, there’s no money available for capital improvements to support student growth, while 15 schools are overcapacity and doubling the number of portable classrooms.
A strategic plan the district is working on hopes to provide solutions to dealing with the rapid growth in the county.
“That’s what we will be talking about in our board meetings in the next few months,” School district Chairwoman Light said during a question-answer portion of the event. “Do we want to expand schools, build more schools, what’s the best thing to do with the taxpayer money?”
Light, who grew up in the county and attended Forsyth Central High, said when she graduated, there were 20,000 residents living in the community. There are nearly 40,000 students in the district nowadays and about 170,000 residents who call the county home.
“My future as well as yours depends on those students,” Light said.