Jobs and the local tax base were front and center during Development Authority of Dawson County chairman Brian Trapnell’s presentation to the Board of Commissioners at the beginning of their May 5 voting session.
A representative from DADC now gives a quarterly update to the board regarding Dawson County’s economic outlook and the development authority’s strategic plan. Trapnell has been the DADC chair since the beginning of this year.
Trapnell began his presentation by mentioning the county’s top private employers. At the top was North Georgia Premium Outlets, with a collective 1100 employees between its stores and site management.
Prominent grocery chains like Walmart, Kroger, Publix and Ingles also made the list alongside companies in the manufacturing, retail and/or food industries.
Trapnell thanked the small employers in addition to the larger ones for the roles their businesses play in the local economy.
Dawson County’s unemployment rate for the first three months of 2022 averaged around 2.5 percent, which Trapnell called “amazing” given the positive sense that “folks are working”.
“It makes for a tight labor market, and I think that puts upward pressure on compensation which we may see in a variety of forms,” he said. “I think we see that those who want to find work are finding work.”
He went on to share statistics about workers’ average weekly wage in Dawson County. Weekly wages are an average of $750 for Dawson workers, compared to $670 and $710 for employees in White and Gilmer counties respectively.
Workers in Lumpkin and Pickens counties earn on average weekly wages of $840 and $976, while Hall and Forsyth workers earn a couple hundred more at $1,040 and $1,064 respectively.
The highest-paying jobs tend to be in the medical field, said Trapnell, with retail/food service positions typically among the lowest-paying.
“When we think about the jobs we ‘want’ in terms of higher-paying wages, we have fewer of them, and when we think about the jobs paying least, we have more of those,” Trapnell said. “What that tells us is that we have an opportunity to grow with our existing workforce and help them be more successful and earn more wages over time.”
The DADC chair also discussed key points of the county’s tax base. In terms of acreage, 74 percent of Dawson County land is either agricultural or conservation property. Commercial and residential uses comprise most of the remaining quarter at 4.2 and 21.2 percent respectively. Industrial and all other uses only make up .2 percent of land use.
Trapnell explained that the goal is for the county to maintain a 60-40 percent split in terms of commercial and residential in the tax base.
“Tax collections are currently being driven by residential use, but we ultimately want to maintain this 60-40 split to maintain a stable tax base over time,” Trapnell said.
A residential acre is worth about $61,000, while a commercial acre is worth about $75,000.
Trapnell pointed to newly-hired Director of Economic Development Kevin Herrit as a key partner in helping promote diversification of Dawson County’s economic funding structure.
Trapnell reminded the board that the Peaks of Dawson project is currently under construction, with a fifth payment or draw being made for the complex.
When acknowledging the area’s housing costs, he nodded to immediate past DADC Chair, Tony Passarello, who was passionate about the affordable housing project as a solution for “those in our community often struggle to find a place to live.”
Trapnell elaborated that the forthcoming apartment complex aligns with the development authority’s goals of helping create affordable housing for everyone who wants to live in the county, particularly workers.
The DADC also mentioned its work with the state and federal governments to secure a broadband infrastructure grant of over $1.3 million for the community at no cost to the county.
Local funds for the grant are coming from a private group, Ellijay Telephone Company, who’s allocating a little over $675,000.
DADC has partnered with ETC to take advantage of the latter’s fiber network and resources to build about 35 miles of high-speed fiber optic cable. The improved broadband networks will serve 563 customers in 14 unserved census block groups across the southwestern, middle and north portions of the county.
He shared that a to-be-announced business is interested in investing $4 million in the county, and there is a 50,000-square-foot warehouse coming to Lumpkin Campground Road that is expected to net 25 new jobs and invest $8 million into the county.
To Trapnell’s earlier point about the tax base, he described mixed-use developments as an option to help diversify the local economy.
As an example, he mentioned the forthcoming Pointe Grand mixed-use development off of Ga. 400 North. That complex is expected to have 8,500 square feet of retail space, two restaurants and two large medical office buildings, an assisted living facility and a hotel, according to Trapnell’s presentation.
He also mentioned the oft-discussed Etowah Bluffs development, which was proposed for a third time before the Planning Commission earlier this year.
Trapnell explained that the DADC has a “close partnership” with Fox Creek in terms of having the developer plan to carve out land for industrial development at no cost to the development authority. The proposed parcel size for that portion of the project is currently under discussion, said Trapnell, but he clarified it’s “substantial enough” to align with the DADC’s strategic plan of introducing new businesses that are in concert with target industries.
He added they’ve actively partnered with Fox Creek themselves long before public discourse began on the project, just as the DADC would do with all stakeholders looking to come to the community and expand.
“When we think about partners that are looking to respond to the community and represent the community’s interest in development, they’ve represented very good faith in having those dialogues…with everyone along the way,” Trapnell said.