FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Fostering economic development amid the flurry of challenges presented by COVID-19 was a difficult task, but Forsyth County still made progress. That was the message at the 2020 Economic Development Summit put on by Forward Forsyth, the county’s economic development arm, in a virtual conference Nov. 17.
Forward Forsyth is a public-private partnership between Forsyth County government, Forsyth County Schools, Lanier Technical College, the University of North Georgia, the Forsyth County Development Authority and the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. The organization formed in 2019 to carry out recommendations made in the county’s 2018 economic development strategic plan.
Carter Patterson, chairman of the Forsyth County Chamber, touted the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said Forsyth was the first county in the state to launch an economic recovery initiative, Together 4 FoCo, which provided expertise to businesses, promoted local companies and provided capital.
“I believe we were successful in all of those areas,” Patterson said.
Patterson also outlined that the Chamber coordinated with the county to dole out over $2.76 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act dollars to over 300 businesses in the county.
Over 525 jobs and $109 million in new capital investment came to Forsyth in 2020, Patterson said.
Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chair Laura Semanson said 21 new development projects were announced this year, many in specific industries the county sought, including advanced manufacturing and e-commerce. Since the creation of Forward Forsyth, she said over 200 acres of commercial properties have been added.
Those new projects help to shoulder the tax responsibility placed on residents.
“Our initial growth resulted in a beautiful bedroom community, but it also resulted in an imbalance between commercial and residential property tax revenues,” Semanson said. “Our current split is about 70 percent residential and about 30 percent commercial. Ideally, the county would have closer to 40 percent of commercial properties to help provide the government services residents and businesses both want and need.”
A more balanced tax digest is also beneficial for local schools. Kristin Morrissey, vice chair with the Forsyth County Board of Education, said homeowners are burdened with about one-quarter of the cost to educate each child in the school system.
To foster a better educated employee base, the school district has expanded its workforce program initiative to provide new pathways, including in aerospace, mechatronics, cyber security veterinary science and, with the opening of East Forsyth High School, architecture, drafting and design.
David Seago, chairman of the Forsyth County Development Authority, said the county will begin looking into it’s “catalyst projects” which include creation of a new business park in the northern portion of the county and identifying key sites for business use.
A recent survey from Forward Forsyth showed over 500 individual business parcels were developed between 2017 and 2019 and the total value of the county’s companies increased by 10 percent up to $3.2 billion during that span.