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County still ranks high in prosperity

POSTED: December 31, 2008 4:00 a.m.

Dawson County is one of the top 10 best places to live, work and play in Georgia, according to a recent report from the Department of Community Affairs.

  

For the second consecutive year, Dawson County has ranked in the top 10 most prosperous counties in the state, slipping two places from 2007.

  

The report, released last week, ranks Dawson 150 out of the state’s 159 counties, with the most prosperous being Oconee County.

  

The data was collected and compiled beginning in early November, according to Russell Morrison, a spokesperson for DCA.

  

Each year the department ranks each of the state’s counties based on economic factors such as employment, income level and business to divide Georgia’s counties into four tiers, as required by the Georgia Job Tax Credit Law.

  

Counties receiving a Tier 1 ranking are the poorest, while those in Tier 4 are the most prosperous. Dawson is one of 18 counties to receive a Tier 4 rating.

  

Neighboring Forsyth, which dropped one place from 159 to 158 in the most prosperous in 2007, Pickens, Hall and Cherokee also are Tier 4 counties.

  

Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County, looks at the data collected as a snapshot in time, saying the calculations are based on information that doesn’t reflect the county’s current economic state.

  

“Events of September, October and November 2008 were of a significant impact,” Auvermann said. “Data prior to that has only limited relevance.

  

“The national economy and local economy changed significantly during that time.

  

While numbers from earlier in the year are interesting, if you don’t take those three months into account, you are not looking at the complete picture.”

  

With the local unemployment rate on the rise, Auvermann said the county must continue to move forward from an economic development standpoint to improve its quality of life.

  

County officials were pleased Dawson County retained a Tier 4 status, though such prosperity makes it more difficult to receive state and national funding for community-based projects.

  

As one of the smallest populated counties with a Tier 4 ranking, Dawson County often has difficulty trying to pay for services the county needs, said Commission Chairman Mike Berg.

  

“Larger counties like Cobb, Cherokee and Gwinnett have populations that makes it more easy to afford to pay for needs of their citizens,” he said.

  

Dawson County’s population, Berg said, is not as layered as most of the other counties.

  

“Other counties have all income levels and ethnicities, but Dawson County isn’t like that,” he said. “Some people have nothing; some have a lot. There’s not a lot in the middle, and we’re penalized for that.”

  

Berg said there is great need in Dawson County for services such as youth, community and literacy programs typically funded by state and national grants.

  

“But because of our Tier 4 status, grants for those are not as readily available,” he said.

  

Dawson County recently joined with Tier 3 Lumpkin County to secure a $192,000 grant for improved fiber communications in the underserved mountain region.

  

The grant comes from the One Georgia Authority through the Broadband Rural Initiative to Develop Georgia’s Economy fund.

  

Berg said he would like to see the Department of Community Affairs’ calculations modified to take smaller counties, with unequally distributed wealth, into account.

 

“There have been talks with DCA to look into modifying the calculation method,” said Berg, who added nothing has been taken up as of yet.

  

Also affected by a Tier 4 ranking are new and expanding businesses, which face a higher threshold to qualify for reduced tax credits.

  

A Tier 4 county must create at least 25 new full-time jobs to be eligible for a $750 per job tax credit.

  

In Tier 1 counties, the state’s 40 poorest counties, a $3,500 credit is available to businesses creating at least five new jobs.

  

E-mail Michele Hester at michele@dawsonnews.com.

 

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