Chairwoman Charlotte Nash lays out 'big picture' for Gwinnett's future

By: Curt Yeomans

Published: February 19, 2015

DULUTH — Gwinnett County Chairwoman Charlotte Nash focused on the big picture as she delivered her State of the County address to a crowded room at the Gwinnett Center Thursday.

That picture shows a county which saw its total number of jobs reach a record high last year. It also shows a county where the police department holds the highest level of CALEA accreditation possible and the schools, parks, libraries and hospitals win awards and accolades.

It is also a county that is spending $50 million on transportation improvements, including bridge replacements, road widening work and school safety projects.

“Sometimes we get so focused on individual projects that we forget about the big picture, we forget about opportunities and details, and I want to get everyone focused back on that big picture,” said Nash after her speech.

Although Nash spent a good portion of her speech talking about where Gwinnett is currently, she also presented her vision for where the county is headed.

Among the key points in that vision are efforts to support existing businesses while working to attract new ones, investments made to boost new developments and redevelopments and diverse methods of transportation.

“When I look into the future, I see a grown-up Gwinnett that has literally grown up in areas along our interstates and major thoroughfares where it makes sense,” Nash told a crowd that included county employees, elected officials and business owners.

Other parts of Nash’s vision include seeing Gwinnett Place as the “center of Gwinnett’s downtown,” creating a “booming entertainment and cultural arts district” around the Gwinnett Center and realizing booming gateways to the county at key entry points.

A large part of that future growth will be built on development already seen in the county. While the number of jobs available in Gwinnett last year set a new record, it also showed the county was back at levels not seen in nearly a decade. State labor figures showed the number of jobs in the county totaled “a little over” 326,000 last year, she said.

A chart presented during Nash’s speech showed the county’s previous peak was around 2007. The numbers dropped dramatically over the next few years before bottoming out in 2009 and 2010.

Since then, Gwinnett has been on a steady climb back toward pre-recession figures. That return to form was finally realized in 2014.

“We are a little ahead of where the number were just before the great recession,” Nash said after her speech.

The chairwoman also pointed to future opportunities for growth as businesses, such as Comcast, expand their operations in the county and Eagle Rock completes television production sound stages on Best Friend Road.

But, there are other steps the county is taking to bring future growth to fruition. Nash pointed out the county commission voted earlier this week to buy land which will be used at some point to create a grade-separated interchange for Ga.Highway 316 and Ga. Highway 8 “when the Georgia Department of Transportation has funds to build it.”

Later this year, the county is also set to update its comprehensive transportation plan for the first time in seven years. The new plan will take a 25-year look at transportation needs in the county. That plan will contribute to Nash’s vision for the future.

“I see a range of transportation options to serve the million and a half people who will call Gwinnett home in 25 years and the businesses that will be here,” Nash said.

The successes Nash pointed out in her speech were not much of a surprise to Council for Quality Growth President Michael Paris, who said there are a variety of factors that contributed to growth in the county.

“Gwinnett County continues to be a star in the region,” Paris said. “Quality residential developments, quality schools and amenities that foster a high quality of life continue to be the reason for this county’s success.”

As she concluded her speech, Nash called on different groups in the community, including county staff, municipal and school board leaders, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and business owners, asking if they would support efforts to fulfill her big picture.

All who were called upon said they would help, and many stood up to emphasize the point.