Stonecrest City: The final frontier

We have a unique opportunity to mold our own future for years to come. We live in the southeast corridor of DeKalb County and can boast of good schools, affordable homes, several shopping districts, an abundance of worship choices, and commercial and industrial growth potential.

People want to live, work, play and worship in their own communities. We have most of those keys to success, absent the work. Unfortunately, there are not enough new significant job opportunities — technical, commercial or industrial — seeking to move or develop in southeast DeKalb.

Simply put, our road to salvation is economic development.

Good: We have one of the most beautiful areas in metropolitan Atlanta for sprawling homes and luxury apartment and rental living. Our green space is unmatched with Arabia Mountain National Heritage area. This includes fantastic walking and bike trails and beautiful scenery.

Better: Our commercial areas of Panola Road and Stonecrest Mall (including Evans Mill Road) boast of good restaurants, grocery stores, banks and convenient shopping. Our access to I-20 is quick and accessible.

Best: The Lithonia Industrial Boulevard corridor (Evans Mill and Turner Hill Road access) and the Panola business and industrial areas have the region’s most available, attractive business park offerings for light and heavy industry, new or expanding manufacturing and custom-built warehousing. Job, jobs and more jobs.

The problem is, we are the best-kept secret in the region. We must re-brand our corridor and prove to potential corporations, large and small, we are business friendly (industrial and commercial), our available workforce is smart and reliable, and an investment in the city of Stonecrest would yield the results they desire.

This is difficult to achieve with DeKalb in the current political climate and without proper representation. The Stonecrest area (District 5) has been without a commissioner for more than 16 months. That has not been from a lack of trying on the part of interim CEO Lee May and several other well-intended commissioners.

DeKalb must shed the skin of nonsense cultivated by years of infighting and mistrust. It is unfair to the citizens and taxpayers of our area to continue to allow this activity to erode our community. It dramatically affects economic development and the reputation to draw business.

If you were the CEO or president of a company looking to relocate, would you consider an area that had the reputation of grudge holding and political shenanigans? Would you tolerate politics that deprived one area of progress merely because of personal or political strife? Is that a place you would gamble your company’s future and investment?

May is young, highly intelligent, personable and an experienced and skilled legislator. His senior staff members are responsive and extremely competent. In my opinion, May knows DeKalb is going to change forever. Its municipal, operational and business model will have to change with it.

We submit that unincorporated territories will be the structure of the past, and all areas will be municipalized. We view the county as an excellent partner for services crucial for survival: watershed management, courts and police and fire, just to name a few. We believe the “boutique” structure of a new city would better respond to residents’ immediate desires in areas such as code enforcement, parks and recreation, and planning and zoning. This is how you grow the business and economic foundation of a city.

New city, new brand, new people in charge, and a fresh start. We could focus on driving business to our area, not away from it. We must develop our own economic development department with dedicated professionals to attract new and relocating businesses, industrial and commercial. We want to build a governmental and convention center and amphitheater in the heart of Stonecrest. We can drive our own cultural and business agenda by proving, “Quality lives here.”

A new city would help our struggling neighbor Lithonia. The city of Lithonia has great historic preservation but lacks the infrastructure and reputation for significant business growth. A new city of Stonecrest, with 50,000 residents, could help pull along Lithonia (with 1,800 residents) with a sheer influx of jobs and opportunities in the Lithonia industrial area, including an intergovernmental agreement. The residual benefits would be profound.

Now is the time to control our future. The city of Stonecrest is the answer.

Jason Lary, a health care and insurance executive, is president of the Stonecrest City Alliance.