By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
“A long game”: Dawson County leaders discuss local economic growth, challenges
Economic outlook 2022
The Dawson County Chamber of Commerce is located at 44 Commerce Drive off of Ga. 400 North. File photo. - photo by Julia Hansen

Tourism has become a vital part of the local economy, and Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mandy Power recently shared the numbers to prove it.

This story continues below.

Visitors spent $97.7 million in Dawson County throughout 2021, a 25.8% increase from 2020, Power said during her presentation at the Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 1 voting session. 

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic impacted 2020 revenues, which fell by about $10 million, there was still an increase by roughly that same amount when comparing 2019 to 2021 numbers, Power added. 

Last year, Dawson County brought in $6.1 million in state and local tax revenues while directly supporting 608 jobs in the tourism industry.

“That [revenue] saves each one of our citizens $640 per year on their property taxes, just from the offset we ,” Power said. 


Development Authority of Dawson County chair Brian Trapnell, who presented after Power, also pointed to tourism and retail, like the North Georgia Premium Outlets, as a “big component of what we do from an economic development perspective.”

During his presentation, Trapnell reiterated that residential property is still driving Local Option Sales Tax or LOST collections, making up 67% of Dawson County’s 2021 tax digest. 

Commercial properties compose 16%, with agricultural and conservation land each contributing 7% to the tax digest and industrial and miscellaneous collections combined adding 3%. 

“Thankfully, due to the retail and food service component of our community–which from a wage perspective is a challenge for someone who wants to live and work in Dawson County–that particular sector or sectors really help mitigate the cost to our citizens,” Trapnell said.

A 2021 Georgia Tech study, based on FY2019 data, concluded that Dawson County’s residential tax digest comes close to paying for government services used, with $1.04 spent for every dollar of revenue. 

The study stated that local businesses pay for more than they get back in services–$0.71 in expenses for every dollar of revenue–and that the companies offer a larger surplus–only $0.41 spent for every dollar–when considering school revenue.

“The more that we can diversify not away from residential, but diversify that tax base in a way that spreads it around a little more evenly, then we have a stronger tax base going forward,” Trapnell said. 

The Georgia Labor Market Explorer’s most recent, second-quarter analysis for Dawson County showed that the community’s largest wages are paid in manufacturing, finance and professional scientific and technical services jobs.

Weekly earnings were $1,099, $1,525 and $1,243 respectively for those industries as of Q2. 

However, retail and accommodation/food service workers earn the lowest locally at $571 and $449 per week. 

And of the 9,800-plus employees in Dawson County, 2,962 work in retail, and 1,632 work in accommodation and food service jobs.

“You can see with retail and food services, that that’s where all our jobs are,” Trapnell said, echoing his May presentation to the board. “As a community, we understand that’s where we are. But over time, we want to make sure we make strides to further diversification, because we know that based on this next slide, the vast majority of our citizens work elsewhere.”

Of the workers who live in Dawson County, 9,508 leave to work in another community, while 1,625 stay for local jobs. Then, 6,777 from outside Dawson come for work.

“So, how can we create opportunities to let those who live here, work here,” said Trapnell, “and find opportunities ultimately for our children and grandchildren to make the decision to come back to Dawson County and work, from a professional perspective?”

He elaborated that part of the development authority’s strategy has been to uplift, support and retain existing industries.

For new incoming businesses, Trapnell consulted a first-quarter 2022 survey from “Area Development Magazine” when explaining what factors influence a company’s decision to invest in a community. 

He listed labor costs, availability of skilled labor, energy/utility availability and shipping/transportation costs as interested industries’ “top four” priorities. 

With supply chain concerns over the past two years, though, Trapnell said securing raw materials has risen from below the top 15 to become the six-most important factor for industries looking to expand. 

Trapnell also pointed to key economic objectives, such as improving current and offering alternative transportation options or creating destination spots with green space and enhanced entertainment. 

He described the attractions element as equally important to competing with labor, utility, transportation and other costs. 

“As a community, we want to make sure that we are demonstrating value to prospective investors [and show] that we are a great place to live and work and we are walkable,” Trapnell said. “Can you walk to a restaurant and go to a concert and play cornhole along the way?” 

“What are people looking for as far as commercial [options]?”, District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield asked Trapnell. 

“For a long time, there was a thought that having a little bit of land with a prepared building– a spec building– would be what drew a company to the community,” Trapnell said.

“If someone is looking to build in the community, they’re looking for a pad-ready site–a site that is flat, has utilities tied to it and that provides room for them to expand.”

It’s “less on the building” and “more on the land side of it,” he added, with Satterfield noting the placement of utilities as another key factor for a prospective community partner. 

“I know a lot of people would like to have the opportunity to go to specialties here instead of 

going to Gainesville or Atlanta or Fulton,” Satterfield added. 

The Northside and Northeast Georgia Medical Center hospital systems are both considering expanding their footprints in Dawson County. Other medical businesses are also looking in the area and talking about having offices or specialties close to the new NGMC hospital, Director of Economic Development Kevin Herrit told the board. 

Trapnell specified that he and his colleagues have identified medical services as a “current target industry because of that proximate development.” 

“Ultimately, economic development is a long game,” Trapnell said. “And we will be opportunistic at every opportunity. But it also requires a level of patience that, [for] many of us that struggle with patience…have to struggle through.”