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Local economic development could soar with right plan

By Justin Boron

Being down isn't always bad when it comes to economic development. It just leaves plenty of room to go up, said Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell at a economic development summit hosted Friday by the local chamber of commerce.

“When it's at its worst, it's the best time to fix it,” Bell said. “No matter what kind of brush you paint with, we're at the best and most opportune moment to go up.”

The meeting capped off two prior events at which a large group of Clayton County's business community brainstormed on how to reinvigorate business prospects while protecting what already exists.

On Friday, about three dozen business and government leaders heard presentations on quality growth and the progress of the current economic ventures at the meeting. Organizers hoping that a more permanent effort toward galvanizing economic growth would result.

One of those proposals was a business retention and expansion group that would serve as a support system, particularly for existing businesses.

Robin Roberts, the recently appointed interim county director of economic development, said the focus on business growth would have to be within the county.

Another prospect discussed was a quality growth team.

Julie Brown of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, office of planning and zoning said the resource teams consist of about 40 team members who interview the public, tour the area, review ordinances, and develop “smart growth” plans. She said it usually costs between $5,000 and $10,000.

The stylish communities, which the group helps plan and typically feature a mix of small business and in-town residential, are becoming a popular concept with the public, she said.

Almost three-quarters of the 113 ballot measures for parks and open space preservation passed in 2001, she said.

Also transit use has grown 21 percent in the past five years.

Brown also tried to dispel what she called a “prevailing myth” which claims current development patterns are more valuable from a government revenue standpoint.

The presentation stressed the importance of compact development that would create clear boundaries and allow for residential and commercial communities within five minutes walking distance of each other.

Gateway Village, a redevelopment plan in north Morrow, would incorporate many of the quality growth concepts, said Lou Hisel, the chairman of the county development authority.

He said the development has made several significant steps in the past two months. The county commission passed the refinancing of the bonds issued to finance the project.

Referring to a state board transportation decision reaffirming its commitment to project, Hisel said, “Commuter rail is now a fact.”

He said the decision will have a positive impact on Gateway as well other developments in the county.