By Guest Columnist JIM MARAN, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce
In Jim Collins best-selling book Good to Great, he says visionary companies don’t ask “How well are we doing?” or “How can we do well?” or “How well do we have to perform to meet the competition?”
To them the critical question is “How can we do better tomorrow than we did today?”
According to Collins, they institutionalize this question as a way of life–a habit of mind and action. Superb execution and performance naturally come to the visionary companies not so much as an end goal, but as the residual result of a never-ending cycle of self-stimulated improvement and investment for the future.
Visionary communities like Gwinnett County and metro Atlanta are the same way.
That critical question asked by visionary companies was the same one the Gwinnett Chamber asked when we launched the Partnership Gwinnett economic and community development strategy with more than 100 public and private partners two years ago this month – “How can we as a community do better tomorrow than we did today?”
The lessons we are learning are applicable to every community across metro Atlanta and Georgia.
We’ve learned that in order to continue our success in attracting and creating the best jobs and careers in the 21st century – especially in today’s economy – Gwinnett and metro Atlanta must be successful in four key areas: creating and retaining the best jobs; producing the best workforce; providing the best quality of life; and successfully marketing our community and region to the world.
It’s not a multiple choice question. We have to excel in all.
Job and Wealth Creation
Building a stronger Gwinnett and metro Atlanta will depend on growing job opportunities and earnings for county residents at various skill-levels.
The Gwinnett Chamber’s job creation strategies in the past two years are focused on the target clusters identified for high quality job growth potential in Gwinnett: Healthcare and Life Sciences; Manufacturing, Distribution and Trade; Headquarters, Regional Offices, and Professional Services; Information Technology; and Advanced Communications.
Since our efforts were launched IN 2007 and despite the greatest recession since World War II, 110 companies have relocated or expanded major new facilities in Gwinnett including the relocation of two Fortune 500 headquarters (Asbury Automotive and NCR). These 110 projects have created more than 6,000 high-wage jobs and resulted in hundreds of millions in new capital investment.
Educational & Workforce Excellence
No economic and community development strategy is complete without addressing the key components of education and workforce training.
Its success will ensure any community’s success in business retention, expansion, and attraction efforts, as workforce-related concerns are critical to most businesses today.
Our efforts in Gwinnett focus on maintaining high quality public and private education in the face of increasing population growth and diversity and address the intersection between all levels of education and local employers’ needs.
Through the collaborative efforts of business and educators, 88 percent of our high school graduates now have post-secondary plans and our percentage of highly educated residents has risen so that one in every three adults in Gwinnett now hold a Bachelors Degree or higher. A highly skilled workforce is a key factor to future economic success.
Quality of Life Enhancements
In today’s world, both companies and workers are increasingly placing a high priority on quality of life factors in their location decision making processes. Everything from the attractiveness of land use patterns to crime rates, cultural assets, and recreational opportunities impact location decisions.
Our quality of life efforts focus on alleviating congested roadways, encouraging progressive redevelopment that will result in more sustainable land use patterns, and enhancing our arts, recreational and cultural assets.
In the past two years, we successfully promoted and passed tax allocation districts for the county and every city, passed a $750 million school bond referendum and the County’s $1.23 billion SPLOST renewal for transportation, recreation and more.
The County passed very progressive and bold long-term comprehensive growth plan and every city in Gwinnett is undergoing incredible renaissances in their downtowns creating award-winning live, work, and play communities.
To top it all off a new comprehensive, communitywide arts initiative is soon to be launched, based on best practices in Plano, TX, Denver, CO and the Research Triangle, NC.
Marketing & Outreach
Gwinnett has matured into one of the Southeast’s strongest job creating counties, but perceptions have not kept pace with realities.
To address this, we have launched aggressive global marketing efforts promoting Gwinnett and metro Atlanta as an attractive place to live, do business, and visit. In addition we’ve launched initiatives targeting young professionals, integrated minority and women leaders into public and private sector leadership, and strengthened strong partnerships with local and regional entities.
We have seen global media coverage on Gwinnett rise by 55 percent and have landed dozens of active corporate prospects through recruitment trips to China, Korea, Germany and more. Our “Success Lives Here” campaign has been touted by national economic development experts as a model for other communities.
And we created the state’s first autonomous, truly regional economic development initiative in the state of Georgia with our partners in counties stretching from Fulton, Cobb, and Dekalb all the way to Athens-Clarke through the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership. Now, when we go on recruiting trips nationally and globally, it’s not just Gwinnett we’re selling – we’re selling Georgia, metro Atlanta and the Innovation Crescent.
Despite the current recession, opportunities exist and every community across our region can make a difference when focused on these four critical areas. They serve as a basis for a sound community and economic development plan that will pull any community out of the economic slump sooner than your peers.
Now is not the time to hold back. The time is now for Gwinnett and metro Atlanta to make a strong step forward toward sustainable long-term economic prosperity for its companies and residents.
The time is now for Gwinnett and metro Atlanta to competitively compete for quality jobs not only against Birmingham or Boston, but also Beijing and Bangalore.
The time is now to propel Gwinnett and metro Atlanta forward from good to great.