GC: Why are economic development leaders important to communities?
This article appeared in the October 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The Children’s Hospital of Atlanta will bring $50 million worth of investment to the city of Brookhaven.
s economic development continues to evolve, development professionals statewide are charged to find innovative ways to keep their communities thriving. Georgia’s Cities
sat down with two city economic development directors: Shirlynn Brownell of Brookhaven and Brian Wismer of Fayetteville to learn how their roles have changed, useful tips and tactics and what’s next for their cities.
SB: They ensure that a community is well-equipped to handle emerging trends that attract and help corporate tenants and small businesses thrive, and they also serve as a brand ambassador for a community further attracting quality development, increasing the tax base and spearheading growth initiatives.
BW: We contribute to the well-being of our city by encouraging opportunities that lead to job creation, new residents and a diversified tax base.
GC: Can you share some recent economic development “wins” and what’s next for your city?
SB: The city’s recent wins include Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s announcement of nearly one billion dollars’ worth of investment in the city, which will include a Center for Advanced Pediatrics. In addition, the Atlanta Hawks recently completed their new practice facility in partnership with Emory Hospital’s new Orthopedic Center, Emory Hospital recently released their master-plan for Executive Park, Sysnet, an Irish fintech company, will soon make Brookhaven its North American headquarters—creating 500 jobs, and Oglethorpe University will invest $50 million in a new School of Business.
BW: A few years ago, our Downtown Development Authority recruited a restaurant with rooftop dining by investing heavily in the historic structure and tenant improvements. We were recently able to sell the building to the restaurant owner and recoup our entire investment cost. The location has been an important catalyst in the growth of our downtown. What’s next is an investment in the creation of more downtown public spaces and amenities to promote private-sector investment on adjacent properties.
GC: What economic development trends are you currently seeing?
SB: I’m seeing a large focus on access to public transportation when recruiting companies. The current workforce wants to avoid having to sit in traffic or getting into a vehicle at all, and it’s pushing cities to get more creative not just with transportation but attracting a diverse housing stock as well. Another trend that I am seeing is communities leveraging their economic development toolkits to partner with developers on the front-end in order to attract the types of development that are best for the community, versus developers coming in and leading that charge. I’m also seeing the industry embrace programs that aim to fill the skilled labor gap that we continue to hear about from organizations. Lastly, as we continue to see smart-city initiatives grow, communities are adjusting their zoning codes and updating their infrastructure as a way to prepare for the changes that will come as a result of automated and autonomous devices.
BW: I’m seeing a real push for reliable project data to justify any incentives offered. Elected officials want to ensure a measurable benefit to the community.
GC: What resources (funding, partnerships, etc.) are you using (or previously used) to stimulate economic growth in your communities?
SB: We utilize the Brookhaven Development Authority, effective affordable housing policies and updates to our zoning codes. These updates make the city development friendly while maintaining a high quality of life for residents. We continue to invest in our parks and the city recently secured funding for the Brookhaven portion of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, a 12-mile greenway along Peachtree Creek that will include trails for biking and walking, and eventually connect to the Atlanta Beltline. We continue to invest in our infrastructure, and we partner with our neighbors on marketing initiatives and overall brand promotion.
BW: We utilized Tax Allocation Districts funds for infrastructure, low-interest loans from the Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Cities Foundation. We also used façade grants and permitting assistance.
GC: What economic development strategies do you use specifically to attract businesses and residents?
SB: We conduct existing industry visits to remain aware of the needs of our large and small employers to build a positive rapport with companies in our community. I also travel with other regional partners to various trade shows and conferences to market not only the city of Brookhaven, but why the region as a whole, is ripe for business. We also have a toolkit of economic development incentives that we are constantly improving and using to attract new, quality development.
BW: We are intentional about the public message we convey to the private sector, that our leadership is unified in attracting specific industry sectors. Public investment in our historic downtown also conveys to the development community that we are serious about residential and business recruitment.
GC: What tips would you provide to economic development directors and leaders across the state?
SB: Leaders in the field should focus on being team players, do their best to stay on top of industry trends and legislative changes that directly affect their work, and be open and flexible to change.
BW: Find a strategy that meets your community’s goals and stay laser focused in that direction. All business sectors aren’t needed or appropriate in every community.