The year 2020 has been extraordinary. It began with a booming economy and every indication was that Alpharetta could look forward to another outstanding year.
Our nighttime population of 67,000 typically swelled to about 130,000 people during the day. This formerly sleepy, suburban town had become one of the largest employment centers in the state of Georgia.
Then, in March, COVID-19 cases were detected in Georgia and everything changed.
Our nation had not faced a deadly pandemic in more than 100 years, so there was no proven blueprint for governments to follow. As the City of Alpharetta worked with county, state and federal authorities to coordinate efforts and create emergency policies, the people of Alpharetta took unprecedented precautions to protect themselves and their neighbors.
Alpharettans immediately started following the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to combat the disease and “flatten the curve.” People stopped shaking hands and began using hand sanitizer throughout the day when washing their hands was not possible.
Families began self-quarantining, and businesses avoided large gatherings of employees. Working from home became the new normal as companies made employee safety their top priority. Churches, restaurants, stores and hotels closed to the public.
Fortunately, the precautions taken in those early days prevented the horrific projections of the time from becoming reality. Local hospitals were never overwhelmed, and over the last nine months the City of Alpharetta has consistently had one of the lowest rates of infection in Fulton County.
However, even the drastic precautions we took could not completely protect us from the devastating effects of COVID-19. Too many people lost their lives or loved ones. Too many people lost jobs, homes or businesses. Even people fortunate enough to avoid direct losses suffered the severe effects of long-term social isolation and inability to conduct their lives as before.
Yet, through it all, Alpharetta has fared better than most. While some communities allowed the stress of COVID-19, job losses, racial injustice and political conflicts to divide them, the people of Alpharetta responded with compassion and resiliency.
The outpouring of support for Alpharetta’s front line workers and first responders has been remarkable. And as the needs of our most vulnerable populations have grown dramatically, members of our community have responded with exceptional generosity.
So what does all this mean for the year ahead? There are still too many unknown variables to be certain of much but there are some things we know.
Commercial real estate trends have changed dramatically over the last year. Many large companies will probably not bring most employees back into office buildings until June or July. Even then, many employers may be implementing more flexible work from home policies and reduce the number of employees on site at one time. Fortunately, as trends like working from home may negatively impact Alpharetta’s economy in the short term, longer term real estate trends are very positive for our community.
The pandemic has prompted an exodus of people and companies from urban core locations into safer, more affordable suburban communities. Simultaneously, millennials are now moving to suburban areas to raise families of their own while working from home. Responding to these trends, commercial property owners are seeking new investments in safe, suburban locations close to that talent pool. These trends are great news for Alpharetta.
Based on all of this, the next few years promise to reflect those changes as some employers downsize their office spaces and others move in from other areas. Traffic may remain a little lighter for a year or two, but as Alpharetta and surrounding areas benefit from the flight of people and businesses into suburban environments, the transportation projects currently underway will be desperately needed.
Yes, the difficulties of 2020 have been immense and have taken a toll on all of us. Thankfully, we are blessed to live in a community where people faced those unprecedented challenges in ways that brought us together and make our community stronger. Thankfully, we live in Alpharetta.