Business activity is coming back to life in Cherokee County.
The county last year saw increased prospect activity and existing industry expansion, according to the Cherokee Office of Economic Development.
CoED President Misti Martin told the Council for Quality Growth on Wednesday that 13 companies in its Existing Industries Incentive Program expanded in 2012, creating 365 new jobs and investing $22.6 million in the county.
She also noted two additional companies applied for the incentive program, investing $6.5 million and creating 30 new jobs.
Other positives for Cherokee economic development include:
- Seven new companies relocated to Cherokee, bringing nearly $4 million in investments and over 90 jobs;
- CoED fielded 9,511 inquiries for building space and sites, which is up by 63 percent from 2011.
- Companies in its Existing Industries program saw a 550 percent increase in expansion over the last four years.
- Existing Industry job growth saw a 365 percent increase over the last four years.
Martin said she wasn't surprised with the trend towards growth in Cherokee.
CoED used the downturn that occurred between 2008 and part of 2011 to market its opportunity zone in the southwest portion of the county, complete the process of getting a second opportunity zone designation in the county and prepared the Cherokee 75 Corporate Park site for renovations and construction.
CoED also implemented a White Collar Recruitment Strategy, performed a workforce study of the county and prepared itself to be included in Georgia's Camera Ready Communities program.
"We’ve really done a lot of things to position ourselves for when the economy starts to turn around," she said. "We would be prime for growth and development."
An opportunity zone is a state designation that allows local governments to provide tax incentives for economic development and revitalization of pockets of poverty.
Benefits include eligibility for a $3,500 tax credit for each new job created, the use of job tax credits against 100 percent of income tax liability and withholding taxes, and the expansion of the definition of business enterprise to include businesses of any kind.
The county's first opportunity zone includes the corporate park and other parcels in the southwest corner of the county. It totals 1,150 acres.
The newest opportunity zone, located in what's called the Technology Ridge area of the county, includes the Canton-Cherokee Business & Industrial Park, the RiverStone and Bluffs development, the Cherokee County Regional Airport and some property in the city limits of Ball Ground.
That opportunity zone, the first multi-jurisdictional zone in the state, was designated in 2012 and has 3,872 acres.
Both opportunity zones are garnering increased attention. Sixty-four percent of the inquiries CoED received last year expressed interest in buildings and properties in the opportunity zones. Twelve percent, Martin added, expressed interest in the corporate park.
Cherokee 75, located off Highway 92 near James Dupree Road, is in the midst of construction and the first phase is slated to be completed by the end of the first quarter.
The park has been certified a Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development (GRAD) site, which Martin said "sends a strong message to prospects considering Cherokee 75 Corporate Park and ensures that the park is competitive with other qualified sites in Georgia."
CoED wants to continue focusing to make 2013 also a year for the record books for Cherokee County. The office will conduct existing industry surveys sometime in the spring, Martin noted.
In order to be successful, Martin said CoED will focus on making sure the county has the available inventory suited office and industrial projects and promoting "economic diversification."
Close to 80 percent of Cherokee County workers travel outside the county for employment and Martin said she wants to focus on efforts to retain that talent inside the county.
"Cherokee can become a self-sustaining community if the local economy is diversified and well paying, quality jobs are created through the expansion of existing businesses, new business recruitment and support of non-traditional economic development," she said referring to industries such as tourism and fil development.