Assets to grow economy

Any good economist will tell you a community, at its most elemental state, is a living, breathing organism of people, businesses, schools, government, ideas and a collective hope for the future. To understand a community, especially one as diverse as DeKalb County, it is important to get a close-up view.

AngelouEconomics has worked with more than 600 cities, counties, states and countries during the last 19 years, helping each look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that make them unique.

During the last year, AE studied DeKalb and helped leaders develop an economic strategic plan for the future. We interviewed more than 200 residents and businesses owners and surveyed nearly 2,000 additional stakeholders. We spoke with business leaders, neighborhood groups, commissioners, government leaders, restaurant owners, moms, dads, public education directors and university leaders.

What we got was an objective and reliable portrait of DeKalb – where it’s from and where it’s headed. We learned DeKalb is a diverse community with a rich history, a county with many important assets to draw upon and a number of issues to address.

We also learned that, while the county has been well-tracked for its problems with corruption and crime in recent years, little media coverage has been given to what the county is doing right. There is a puzzling lack of coverage documenting the remarkable steps the county is taking to overcome its struggle with poverty and related crime and the advances it is making to plan for a better future.

In the last year alone, DeKalb has accomplished many things. Permitting processes have been significantly improved to help businesses operate more efficiently. New and expanded businesses mean more jobs and less poverty.

The county has partnered with the Development Authority of DeKalb County to compete in the world economy. The authority has a new strategic plan to help existing businesses grow and to attract industries. That plan is being reviewed by the Board of Commissioners.

DeKalb has an abundance of assets with which to grow its economy. It has an ideal strategic location in metro Atlanta, with access to numerous highways and rail and air transportation options. DeKalb has several Community Improvement Districts, including the Tucker-Northlake, Perimeter, East Metro and Stone Mountain CIDs. Tourism can grow if centered on historical sites such as Arabia Mountain and Stone Mountain Park.

Exceptional higher education institutions call DeKalb home, including Emory, Mercer, Oglethorpe and DeVry universities, as well as Agnes Scott, Georgia Perimeter and other colleges. The county also is home to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DeKalb County will struggle with many tough issues on its road to economic success. It will be important for stakeholders to shoulder responsibility and work together to solve those issues and guarantee a bright future.