Monday, November 30, 2009

A Record Year Despite the Challenges

As we head into the holiday season and wrap up 2009, there are many achievements that we at the Gwinnett Chamber are thankful for. Most importantly we are thankful for you, our members, whose countless volunteer hours and continued financial support have helped your Chamber and Gwinnett make some very impressive headlines in 2009. I wanted to share some of our highlights with you.

For starters, thanks to Partnership Gwinnett's Economic and Community Development Strategy, we shocked the world by becoming the only community in the U.S. to recruit two Fortune 500 Corporate Headquarters in less than a year: NCR from Ohio and Asbury Automotive from New York. These were just the highest profile project wins from more than 115 expansions and relocation's yielding 6,200 jobs since the launch of Partnership Gwinnett in 2007. Successful recruiting trips to Asia and Europe and our historic partnership with the State to attract businesses from the Gaming and Digital Entertainment clusters have earned us honors and recognition in Georgia and abroad. Our brand has never been stronger, thus positioning us for even stronger long-term, high-way job creation.

To ensure Gwinnett and the Metro Atlanta region remain strong, we also successfully lobbied for a number of legislative actions to strengthen our community. These included enhancing statewide tax credit incentives for strategic industries that allowed us to attract NCR and reauthorizing tax allocation districts to revitalize blighted neighborhoods in southern Gwinnett. We rallied business community support to pressure Emory and Piedmont Hospitals to drop their lawsuits against Gwinnett Medical Center's open heart surgery program, thus saving countless lives. To support education, we launched mentoring programs in middle schools for at-risk students; helped secure more than $500,000 in grants for the creation of a Bio Science Career Path (with lab equipment) in our high schools; and expanded work-based apprenticeship programs in Gwinnett County Public Schools and Gwinnett Technical College. Encouraging our public partners to invest in a strong quality of life creates an environment that stimulates job creation.

To help our members grow their businesses and be as competitive as possible in today's challenging market conditions, we hosted a record 320 networking and business development events attended by more than 35,000 participants this year. We also launched the region's first comprehensive entrepreneurial development initiative, the Metro Atlanta Council for Entrepreneurship, attracting more growth companies that collectively employ 2,765 people with aggregate revenues of $690 million. Our Diversity Supplier Forums directly assisted 37 minority ad women-owned business owners in obtaining contracts from government agencies and private employers. And more than 500 new companies joined the Chamber in 2009, meaning greater partnership opportunities for you.

The Chamber's goals are simple. Creating jobs and wealth. Strengthening our communities. Growing your business. With your support, successes in these areas will remain strong in 2010 and beyond. Happy Holidays.

By Jim Maran

Chairman's Club: Better Than Publicity, It's Fulfilling Rewards

Matt Hyatt, president of Rocket IT, feels the Chairman's Club provides a unique opportunity to meet community leaders and build valuable relationships, among many other benefits.

"Since becoming a member of the Chairman's Club in 2006, I've met hundreds of other business and government leaders. I've developed strong business relationships with many of these people, and I now count some of them among my closest friends," said Hyatt.

Another Chairman's Club member, Lee Machen of Executive Advisor Group, LLC, believes that "undoubtedly being a Chairman's Club member has become one of my primary avenues for building successful business relationships. In the end, the friendships that are built naturally lead to mutual business opportunities."

Building beneficial relationships is not the only major reward of Chairman's Club membership. "Rocket IT has enjoyed wide exposure in Gwinnett, building brand awareness and good will that just is not possible anywhere else," said Hyatt. "In my opinion, there is no better business-to-business networking opportunity in Gwinnett County."

When asked for advice to other members, Matt Hyatt responded with, "I'd say that participation, contribution and consistency are the keys to success."

Hyatt believes "the members that pour their time and attention into their community month after month, year after year, are the ones that tend to enjoy the highest rewards."

Is your business ready for fulfilling rewards? Then be a proactive leader in the Chamber's efforts to build and sustain a prosperous community. To set up an appointment, contact Vince DeSilva, vice president of membership services at 678-474-1703 or

Chairman's Club members know that they make a critical difference in determining the future course of the business environment by becoming a key player at the table when decision are made. The financial contribution of $5,000 or more has a direct benefit on pro-business initiatives that will continue to foster a welcoming climate for industry growth in the county. Join with this group and a leader committed to the future of Gwinnett.

Sponsorship Opportunities: "Expose Yourself" With The Chamber

Expose yourself...come on, let it all show! In today's economic climate it is a must. Businesses everywhere are having to try even harder in order to get their name out to potential clients. It is such a daunting task to many companies that the pain of how to succeed scares them from even trying.

No need to be afraid when you are a member of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. "We are here to help you expose yourself to all of Gwinnett and the greater metro Atlanta area," said Vince DeSilva, vice president of member services. "When the economy slides it is crucial for companies to market themselves better than ever before. Sponsorships are a great way to do this in a cost-effective way while reaching a highly influential audience."

As an added benefit, when companies align themselves with the Gwinnett Chamber by sponsoring programs and services, they are conveying to the community that they are a reputable company, according to independent research from the Schapiro Group. This research study shows that when respondents were told that a particular small business was a member of its local chamber, they were 44 percent more likely to rate it favorably than study respondents who were not told of the chamber affiliation. Respondents were also 63 percent more likely to want to purchase goods or services from a small business that is a chamber member.

The results show that being active in the local chamber of commerce is a good strategy for businesses to use in communicating important company traits too. The report revealed that statistically, it is an effective way to convey to consumers that a company uses good business practices, is involved in the community, cares about customers and is reputable- regardless of whatever they may or may not already think about the company.

Many of Gwinnett's business leaders have already caught on to what the Schapiro Group is reporting. Companies and organizations such as Gwinnett Medical Center, Rocket IT, AT&T, Georgia Power Company, Merrill Lynch- The Cross Group, The PrivateBank, SCANA Energy, Peterbrooke Chocolatier, Cakes by Shupan & LaFavor, Etc., are aligning themselves with the Gwinnett Chamber and exposing their companies to Gwinnett and metro Atlanta by sponsoring a variety of programs and services.

Chamber members are provided with plenty of opportunities throughout the year to showcase their companies. Sponsorships develop during the year that will place your company in front of decision makers all across the area, and for a price that will fit almost any budget. By partnering with the Gwinnett Chamber in your company's marketing, public relations and advertising plans, your company will have access to a broad array of potential clients that your competition will not have.

If you would like to be notified of new opportunities to expose your company, please e-mail Vince DeSilva, vice president of membership services, at with your preferences.

Industry Spotlight: WIKA Instrumental Corporation Measures Up in Gwinnett

For over 60 years, WIKA has continued to globally advance pressure gauge, sensor and temperature instrumentation technology. WIKA Instrument Corporation, located in Gwinnett County, has served as the WIKA USA subsidiary for over 40 years.

WIKA believes manufacturing and logistics are important to Gwinnett's local economy because their production facility keeps jobs in the community. WIKA's facility in Gwinnett County is doing something positive to sustain a local manufacturing presence in spite of a national decline. Michael Gerster, president of WIKA states, "A good and solid manufacturing base is the backbone for the local economy. We are part of the DNA which builds strong communities."

WIKA works with other Gwinnett County companies to increase training opportunities for its employees and uses many local companies for maintenance and business services. WIKA employees have been enthusiastic participants in the Gwinnett Corporate Challenge for several years now.

Gerster reported that his company experienced the benefits of being involved in the community and with the Chamber in July 2004, when WIKA had a fire in the middle of the day which disabled 50 percent of their plant. "Without the support and influence of the Gwinnett Chamber, WKIA would have lost two to three days of production."

WIKA has been nominated for "Georgia Manufacturer of the Year" in 2006, 2007 and in 2008 by the Gwinnett Chamber and Gwinnett Technical College. WIKA was also recently recognized at the chamber's "Manufacturing Appreciation Breakfast".

According to Gerster, "WIKA's leading business principle is to understand any outcome we accomplish is the result of a process. If we don't like the result, it is the process that needs to change. We encourage people to ask why the process did not give us the desired results and develop corrective action." WIKA requires continuous improvement training for all employees to find solutions to fix "what" went wrong and not "who" is wrong.

For more information on WIKA, visit www.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gwinnett Chamber Public Policy: It’s All about Jobs for 2010

2010 is high-wage jobs. For the coming year, it will be all about getting other successful companies like NCR to locate and expand in Gwinnett to improve the business climate and quality of life for the County and the region. Gwinnett Chamber members and guests will have the chance to get a preview of the legislative session at the Annual Legislative Luncheon
Presented by Rocket IT on December 16 at the Atlanta Marriott-Gwinnett Place at 11:30 a.m.
The luncheon, featuring Georgia House of Representatives Speaker Glenn Richardson, will be the first opportunity for Chamber members to learn about the key issues, which include water, education, transportation and economic development, that the Gwinnett Chamber will address to ensure a healthy business climate.

“The Gwinnett Chamber is constantly working to improve our County and region at the legislative level so that we can bring more companies like NCR to Gwinnett which provide
high-wage jobs,” said Demming Bass, Gwinnett Chamber vice president of communications and public policy. “The pro-business legislation that the Chamber advocates helps all companies to grow and become more successful.”

The Gwinnett Chamber puts together a number of high profile events prior to and during the legislative session in an effort to communicate the business community’s message. Following the December 16th Legislative Luncheon, the Chamber will officially begin the session with the Legislative Kick-off Presented by AT&T on January 7 at 6 p.m. at The 1818 Club. The Kick-off, which is held to educate the legislative delegation on our 2010 priorities, presents a great opportunity to personally thank and spend quality time with the County and region’s senators and representatives.

The Gwinnett Chamber will also once again hold Gwinnett Day at the Capitol Presented by AT&T on February 25. Following a full day of lobbying for issues important to Gwinnett,
the Chamber will wrap up with a reception in the historic “Depot” where the Chamber will host the entire Georgia General Assembly while showcasing the best of Gwinnett.

“The Gwinnett Chamber serves as your voice, advocating on your behalf to our elected officials,” said Bass.

During the legislative session and at each of these events, the Gwinnett Chamber will be advocating for water, transportation, education and economic development, which were identified as key concerns from the Chamber’s 7,200 members as well as from feedback received
from more than 2,500 residents, business, and community leaders during the research phase of
Partnership Gwinnett, the community’s public private initiative, led by the Chamber.

“The Chamber’s efforts to secure a new, dedicated revenue stream for transportation projects ended in a road block in 2009. Looking forward to 2010, we will focus on getting this conversation started again,” said Bass. “Coming back from the Strategic
Leadership Visit in Denver, we learned a lot of important lessons on how a transportation plan can be successfully structured and implemented. We look forward to applying those lessons here.”

The Gwinnett Chamber is actively involved in a number of groups working to ensure the long-term availability of water in the region. Through its involvement with these groups and from what the Gwinnett Chamber is hearing from the business community, it is vital for Gwinnett to secure future water supplies, despite difficult budget challenges and improved drought conditions.

“The Gwinnett Chamber will continue to support the necessary funding for the Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan and the raising of the Conservation Pool of Lake Lanier two feet from 1071 to 1073 in order to increase water storage for droughts,” said Bass.

And finally, in order to ensure a qualified workforce for the region, Georgia must continue to make the necessary investments in our educational infrastructure. “With a tough economic climate expected to persist into 2010 no one argues that the State will continue to have to make difficult budget cuts,” said Bass. “However, we will urge legislators not to cut investments in k-12 public schools, our technical colleges and university system at a time when they are growing and needed more than ever.”

Be sure to mark your calendar for these important events. Also, visit the Gwinnett Chamber Government Relations Web site,, for the latest developments. Whether as a sponsor or an attendee to any of these events, you’ll add your voice to our efforts to ensure the public policy decisions our leaders make today will continue to have a positive impact on our community by bringing high-wage jobs to Gwinnett and the region.

Drugs Don’t Work: Just say ‘NO’ to Drugs…in Gwinnett’s Workplaces

Just say “NO”! It’s preached to children every day, what about the workplace? The fact is that drugs simply do not work. How about becoming a role model for all the kids and having a drug free workplace? If schools can be drug-free environments then so can offices!

The Gwinnett Chamber’s Drugs Don’t Work (DDW) program is the perfect way to have a respectable and responsible workplace and save your company money. This program educates Gwinnett employers about the prevention, intervention and elimination of substance abuse in the workplace. The program also provides the continuing education hours needed to obtain and maintain the drug-free workplace certification.

If being a good role model isn’t reason enough to enforce a drug-free workplace, consider many of the financial benefits of being a part of the Gwinnett Chamber’s Drugs Don’t Work program including increasing productivity and reducing your company’s workers’ compensation premiums by 7.5% when you join.

All it takes is five easy steps to become a certified drug-free workplace:

Step 1: Your company must have a substance abuse policy. As a member, a “fill-in-the-blank” state recommended policy will be emailed to you. All you have to do is print it on company letterhead and hand it to all employees.

Step 2: Your company must conduct drug testing. You do not have to drug test all your workforce or have random drug tests. However, you do have to conduct pre-employment, reasonable suspicion (for cause) post-rehab and post-accident drug testing. As a member, you will be offered discounted prices for On-Site and OraLab drug testing kits.

Step 3: Your company must conduct one hour of employee education each year. As a DDW member, the Chamber will provide you with a monthly newsletter that will help you with this requirement. An Employee’s greatest weapon to prevent drug abuse is education.

Step 4: Your company must conduct two hours of supervisor training each year. You can sign up for monthly supervisor newsletters or attend the quarterly meetings in order to meet this requirement.

Step 5: Your Company must EITHER have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or a referral list of treatment and counseling centers in your area. As a member, you will have access to an online help center.

Steve Queen from the Drugs Don’t Work Presenting Sponsor Sentinel Offender Services said that, as an added benefit beyond saving his company money, this program helps with family life because the more information and sources someone has, the better. He also believes that this program is a “great source of information on the advantages and pitfalls of the drug-free workplace by bringing in great ideas with speakers and topics. The Chamber helps fill in the gaps that most Web sites leave out.”

Most people brush off a drug-free program because it should be something that is common sense, right? Let’s look at some facts. American business owners lose an estimated $160 billion per year due to drug use. In fact, 77% of illegal drug users are employed in full- and part-time jobs. A quarter of the workforce reports substance abuse or addiction in their family and 42% of them report they have been distracted and less productive at work because of it. Looking at it this way…it seems more important now, doesn’t it?

For more information on this important program visit; or contact Nicole Wright at 770-232-8816 or

The Aurora Theatre: Enriching Gwinnett’s Culture

The ‘Arts’ is something that is greatly needed no matter where you are; luckily for Gwinnett, we have the Aurora Theatre.

Aurora Theatre Founder and Producing Artistic Director and Gwinnett Chamber Board Member Anthony Rodriguez said he will continue to fight the good fight to keep Aurora as Gwinnett’s crown jewel for the performing arts.

“It has been my privilege to serve on the board of directors. I hope my presence lends a unique perspective on cultural arts and how they affect quality-of-life issues as the Chamber plans for the future,” said Rodriguez.

The theatre is located on the square in the historic, downtown Lawrenceville. Their Mainstage Season is continuing with Christmas Canteen 2009 and Tranced, a psychological thriller. “Aurora Theatre strengthens Gwinnett by creating a positive economic impact, which makes our county a more desirable place to live, work and play,” commented Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a major supporter of the Chamber’s Strategic Leadership Visit program where delegates take trips to other cities in order to learn innovative ideas on how to work together and improve the quality of life in the area. “I believe the Chamber’s Strategic Leadership Visit may be the most important event on my calendar. It gives me the opportunity to learn best practices from other communities. No matter where we visit, cities stress the importance of the arts,” said Rodriquez. “When our leaders hear from Raleigh or Denver that the arts are vital to creating a successful city, it makes it easier for me to fight the good fight. Aurora’s mission is to create a new generation of theatre goers, but we only succeed with help from a team of people.”

The Strategic Leadership Visit is not the only involvement in the community Aurora Theatre participates in. Over the summer, Aurora Academy offered $12,000 in scholarships to community children for theatrical training. Also, the theatre works with the Gwinnett County Public Schools to create programs that will enhance their curriculum. Thousands of local school children are able to attend live theatrical performances with Aurora’s help. Field trips are being scheduled for “The Library Dragon” in February 2009.

The Aurora Theatre introduced GGC Lab Series this season that are experimental plays in the studio theatre. It also offers ancillary programming like: Funny Fridays, Swing Nights and Lawrenceville Ghost Tours. For young children, there is Children’s Playhouse and Aurora Academy for students of all ages. For more information visit,

Gwinnett Chamber Strategic Leadership Visit: Leaders Return with a Regional Outlook

Regionalism. That is the buzz word that arose from the Gwinnett Chamber’s fourth Strategic Leadership Visit in the ‘Mile High City.’ The 2009 Denver trip, which took place in late September, marked the fourth such trip the Chamber has planned for the county’s and region’s leaders in government, business, and education. The purpose of the Chamber’s Strategic Leadership Visit is to take a select group of both Gwinnett’s and the region’s leaders to other metro counties and regions to explore innovative ideas and programs which have helped to build partnerships to impact positive community change. This also fulfills an important ongoing objective of the community’s Partnership Gwinnett long-term economic and community development strategy.

“For 2009, we choose Denver because of its resilience to bounce back after busts and booms in the economy, including the oil bust in the 1980s,” said Gwinnett Chamber Vice President of Communications and Public Policy Demming Bass. “The fact that many of the region’s most successful initiatives came out of this crisis can serve as an inspiration for Gwinnett and metro Atlanta as we weather one of the worst economic recessions in decades.”

The way in which Denver bounced back with its regional approach left the biggest impression on the leaders who attended the trip. Throughout the Strategic Leadership Visit, Gwinnett’s leaders heard from Denver-area city and county leaders who achieved economic stability and growth by doing what is best for the region rather than limiting their focus to their own community.

“Through Partnership Gwinnett’s cooperative mindset that regional approach is already in play. Gwinnett is taking the lead with this new way of doing business,” said Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District Executive Director Joe Allen. “During the Denver trip, all of the stakeholders that we heard from noted this model of cooperation among the local communities working as one to improve infrastructure, seek funding solutions, and plan for future growth. They truly realize each one’s success is dependent on the success of the other.”

Previous visits to Fairfax County, Virginia, Collin County, Texas, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina have exposed participants to a wide range of ideas and practices for economic and community development. Equally important, the visits have created new networks among business and civic leaders in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta – connections vital for implementing lessons learned upon return to Georgia.

Past visits have greatly influenced a number of Gwinnett success stories including the creation of Partnership Gwinnett, the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, the Gwinnett Braves Stadium, and the current pursuit of the tollway for the Ronald Reagan Parkway Extension.

So, what did attendees bring back from this year’s trip to Denver? While Gwinnett and metro Atlanta will never have the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and certainly not the low humidity levels that bring many people and businesses to the Mile High City, Gwinnett may see changes in areas where revitalization is needed, a peaceful co-existence between roads and transit, and new business and education partnerships aimed at increasing completion rates and access to career choice for our future workforce.

During the tour of the Belmar redevelopment in Lakewood, Colorado, Gwinnett’s leaders learned about the Denver region’s strong public-private partnerships that allowed for the conversion of a dying mall into a new urban downtown center. The city officials had an attitude of “let’s make this work” rather than the normal “follow the rules” mentality of government. The importance of allowing “out-of-the-box” rules and regulations and tax increment funding were an important part of the equation that made Belmar and the Town Center at Aurora possible.

“During the Belmar tour, what I saw before me was a complete integration of retail, employment, residential and cultural venues on the footprint of a former interior mall about the size of the Gwinnett Place Mall area,” said Allen. “We would do well to further explore this model and bring the various private and public decision makers to the table to determine Gwinnett Place Mall’s long-term direction and strategy for continued success. This step is something the CID has already begun to do with various meetings scheduled with local property owners.”

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister was particularly impressed with Denver’s regional approach to transportation. “Denver reinforced the notion that we need a regional approach to solve our transportation issues,” said Bannister. “As Chairman, I serve the people and businesses of Gwinnett, but I also serve the people who commute from surrounding counties to Gwinnett. It is important to remember this as we discuss transportation.”

Chairman Bannister and fellow business and community leaders learned about several different transportation models that would be interesting for Gwinnett to consider. One model is Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) where the governing body of the RTD includes representation from throughout the region, and no one area of the region (including the City of Denver) dominates the RTD. Denver’s model for funding its FasTracks and T-Rex transportation initiatives are also worth considering as we debate how to increase state funding here in metro Atlanta and Georgia. Gwinnett leaders also learned about the peaceful co-existence between roads and transit when they heard from one of the presenters who said “While it is true that roads alone are not the answer, Roads are not the enemy.”

Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District Executive Director Chuck Warbington was equally impressed with Denver’s regional approach to solving transportation issues. “The idea of tackling issues from a regional standpoint instead of individually was the biggest lesson that I learned on the trip,” said Warbinton. “One initial way to solidify relationships and work together is through better planning and funding for transportation and transit projects on a regional level that connects employment centers across the Atlanta metro area.”

A new initiative may be born from what Gwinnett leaders learned from their lesson on The Adams County Consortium, which was created a few years ago in partnership between Adams
County Economic Development and all local educational systems from K-12 to colleges. In less than five years, more than 5,100 students have attended its Career Expo and 1,000 went through its “Experience 9 to 5” mentoring program.

“The result of this program for Denver has been increased overall successful completion rates for secondary and post-secondary students with increased access to career choices in local industry,” said Bass. “The ‘9 to 5’ program impressed everyone on the trip so much that there are already plans to implement the program in Gwinnett.”

What’s Next
While it may be too early to measure the ideas elicited and successes gained from the Chamber’s trip to Denver, these areas mentioned left a big impression on attendees and will surely help to direct the Gwinnett area’s and the region’s future.

“The regional cooperation between the cities in metro Denver made it possible for huge transportation projects, attracting seven professional sports teams, and an array of arts and cultural amenities,” said City of Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson. “We have had similar success with Partnership Gwinnett, which has made it possible to keep and attract businesses, support education, and develop arts and cultural programs. This trip has inspired all of us take another step forward and reinforced the importance of regional thinking.”

For more information on the Strategic Leadership Visit,
go to

Yerkes National Primate Research Center: Discoveries Happen Here

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, are in the comprehensive process of unraveling the mysteries of human health. Why do some people develop neurodegenerative diseases while others do not? Do hormones play a role in social behavior? What new treatments will slow or stop the progression of infectious and noninfectious diseases? At Yerkes, research is focused on understanding the human body and behavior and on beginning the translational research process. Research at Yerkes provides a vital connection to further scientific discovery that will improve the health of our nation and the world.

The Yerkes Research Center is an international leader in biomedical and behavioral research. As one of only eight National Institutes of Health–designated national primate research centers, Yerkes is unique in its position to carry out such diverse research. The center houses nearly 3,600 nonhuman primates and more than 13,000 rodents between the main center on Emory’s Atlanta campus and the Yerkes field station in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

As a lead primate research center and as a national resource for the bioscience industry, the Yerkes Research Center has become an integral and important part of Gwinnett County and its economic development success, particularly with the bioscience industry. Stuart Zola, PhD, Director of the Yerkes Research Center joined the Chairman’s Club in 2007. Dr. Zola believes Yerkes helps to make Gwinnett County unique.

“Gwinnett has a leading national primate research center. There is nowhere else in the world where this type of behavioral and translational research is conducted, and because of this
Yerkes helps to draw the interest of the biomedical industry to Gwinnett,” said Dr. Zola.

“Discoveries happen here,” continued Zola. “The bioscience industry can and does take advantage of the research and discoveries Yerkes is producing.”

In addition to drawing the attention of one of Gwinnett’s target industries, Yerkes is also working to prepare future scientists through its partnerships with the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology and Georgia Gwinnett College. “We collaborate on training programs and internships where students work directly with scientists to complete projects,” said Dr. Zola. “The scientists at Yerkes help the students understand how science works and become their mentors.”

“For nearly seven decades, Yerkes has been dedicated to improving human health and well-being and to advancing scientific understanding of primate biology, behavior, veterinary care and conservation,” said Dr. Zola. “We look forward to working the Gwinnett Chamber to help move forward our cause of advancing scientific discovery and improving human health.”

For more information on the Yerkes Primate Research Center, visit

Best Practices from Metro Denver

Last month the Gwinnett Chamber led a delegation of business and community leaders on its fourth annual Strategic Leadership Visit to the metro Denver region of Colorado to study best practices in the areas of economic development, transportation, education, revitalization, arts and culture and regional collaboration.

The most striking observation was the fact that many of the region’s most successful initiatives that have been instrumental in Denver’s rise as one of the nation’s premier communities were spawned out of the economic crisis of the oil bust in the mid 80s. That revelation can serve as an inspiration to us here in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta as we weather one of the worst economic recessions in decades. In this current crisis, tomorrow’s greatest ideas can and should be born. Some of the best practices we learned included:

For our public school leaders: Denver Public School’s successful implementation of providing more autonomy for schools in exchange for heightened accountability. DPS’ ProComp “pay-for-performance” compensation plans also rewards teachers for meeting and exceeding expectations, links compensations to instructional outcomes and provides a bonus structure that helps the district meet staffing needs in specific schools. The result has been improving student achievement across all demographic groups.

For our business-education partnerships: The Adams County Consortium was created a few years ago in partnership between Adams County Economic Development and all local educational systems from K-12 to colleges. In less than five years, more than 5,100 students have attended its Career Expo and 1,000 went through its “Experience 9 to 5” mentoring program. The result has been increased overall successful completion rates for secondary and post-secondary students with increased access to career choices in local industry.

For our regional transportation leaders: Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) is an interesting model for us to consider. The governing body of the RTD includes representation from throughout the region, and no one area of the region (including the City of Denver) dominates the RTD. The RTD manages the financing, planning and implementation of transit throughout the region, and operates the transit system region-wide. There appears to be a great sense of pride and ownership of the RTD in the eight-county Metropolitan Denver area.

For supporters of transit and/or roads: There has been a history of supporting both roadway and transit improvements in the area. Unlike the Atlanta region, where quite often the opinions are that the two (roads and transit) cannot peacefully co-exist, we heard the following from one of our presenters, “While it is true that roads alone are not the answer, Roads are not the enemy.” This means that the region has moved beyond the “one or the other” mindset. This vision is critical to us solving our transportation problems in metro Atlanta and throughout the State of Georgia.

For statewide transportation leaders: Denver’s model for funding its FasTracks and T-Rex transportation initiatives are also worth considering as we debate how to increase state funding here in metro Atlanta and Georgia. Their process included the General Assembly statutorily giving the region the authority to hold its own referendum allowing a special local option sales tax that would be raised in and stay in the region. They added that the best plan should be clearly communicated with voters, should include increased road capacity as well as transit and projects should be under-promised and over-delivered.

For our arts leaders: Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is a unique collaboration between rural, suburban and urban counties in the Denver region. The SCFD is funded by a small sales and use tax (one penny on every $10 of sales and use tax) approved by residents across the region in 1988 and reaffirmed with a renewal vote in 1994. The result has been the generation and distribution of more than $591 million in grants to more than 330 arts groups of all sizes resulting in an economic impact of more than $1.7 billion.

For our regional economic development leaders: Also spawned out of the deep recession of the mid 80s, what is now the Denver Metro Economic Development Council was formed as the nation’s first and only truly regional economic development entity in which many area economic development groups have joined together to represent, and further, the interests of an entire region. Its partners include 70 cities, counties, and economic development organizations in the seven-county Metro Denver and two-county Northern Colorado region. The result has been an increase in close rates on relocations between Denver and top competitors Dallas, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona from 20 percent in the late 80s to more than 50 percent today.

For our higher education leaders and those in the 316 corridor: The Anschutz Medical Campus and Fitzsimmons Life Science District is a model of collaboration between the University of Colorado Denver and local hospitals and research institutions. Literally built from scratch from an abandoned army base, employment has soared from 200 at time of closure in 1997 to 17,000 in 2008 and resulted in an estimated economic impact of $6 billion per year at completion.

For our targeted industry marketing efforts: Denver’s light-hearted Colorado loves California campaign targeting CEOs and companies for expansion and relocation from the beleaguered, anti-business climate in California has resulted in a number of relocations and prospects while garnering positive national and international coverage. Seventy-two hours after the initial campaign went live on Valentine’s Day, 25 to 30 companies reached out to the Metro Denver EDC about possible expansion or relocation. Of that original 30, seven are currently in serious negotiations with the city.

For our CIDs and redevelopment leaders: At the Belmar redevelopment in Lakewood, strong public-private partnerships allowed for the conversion of a dying mall into a new urban downtown center. City officials had an attitude of “let’s make this work” rather than the normal “follow the rules” mentality of government. The importance of creating/allowing “out of the box” rules/regulations and tax increment funding were an important part of the equation that made Belmar and the Town Center at Aurora possible. The incorporation of green building and sustainable environmental elements such as solar and wind power was also impressive.

In closing, the value of regional thinking and cooperation was another best practice that all of metro Atlanta area should attempt to adopt. They truly realize that each one’s success is dependent on the success of the other.

Through the Chamber’s Partnership Gwinnett mindset, Gwinnett is taking the lead with this new way of doing business, both internally (by partnering with all of our local governments, CIDs and more) and externally (by creating Georgia’s Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership, supporting Get Georgia Moving and more). But more of this regional leadership and collaboration needs to come from downtown Atlanta (as it did in Denver) if our region wants to remain a world-class community.

Jim Maran,
Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce