On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Board Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Kerry Armstrong provided an update on the state of the metro Atlanta region. The common theme throughout his presentation was both the challenges and opportunities that arise from the ongoing pandemic and how the region responds.
PANDEMIC & ECONOMY
Gwinnett County, along with the rest of the region, saw the largest spike in the first half of January, largely speculated due to holiday gatherings. However, cases have dwindled since. Friday, May 2, 2020 marked the worst economic day in the region, including employment and job creation. However, the region has consistently responded to economic hardships in the past and there is reason to believe that we will emerge from this one.
The Metro Atlanta region has seen continuous growth in population as people from around the world recognize Georgia as a desirable place to live. Since 2010, the 20-county region has added over 500,000 people and is projected to add another 2.9 million by 2050. Gwinnett alone is expected to add nearly 600,000 residents. Likewise, the Metro Atlanta region has been a leader in job growth, and though some may believe that the pandemic will slow growth, there are indicators that we will see an acceleration. The pandemic has accelerated the trends that were already underway, trends like telecommuting and repurposed infrastructure. We must take advantage of these accelerated trends if we are to emerge. The county’s recent agreement to purchase the Gwinnett Place Mall is a great example of our opportunity to rethink how we use or re-use built-in environment.
HOUSING & FOOD
Growth is great, but it also creates many challenges like housing and job preparedness. Cost of living has continuously increased while wages have not kept pace. Our diverse housing options and job creation are reasons for the region’s emergence, and we must continue to work towards responding to the demands. Another challenge is food insecurity. Gwinnett County Public Schools understood that many students depend on school lunches for meals. Once schools pivoted to all-virtual learning, GCPS offered meals for pick-up and continue to do so. The challenge is also seen in the senior adult population as the region responds to assuring that food, health, and other services remain accessible. Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson, who serves on the ARC Board, has committed to co-chair ARC’s committees on Governance and Community Resources.
Gwinnett has always been at the forefront of water. The Water Tower is a beacon of the county in the water sector and its innovation campus, currently under construction, will serve as a training center for research, workforce development, technology innovation, and community engagement. Kerry Armstrong reports that regional water usage has declined despite population growth. Technology is a key contributing factor as we have better tools to quickly detect and repair water issues. Additionally, conservation pricing policies have modified consumer usage. Lastly, individuals have taken responsibility in water usage.
In January, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia signed a contract for several local governments, including Gwinnett County and City of Buford, to withdraw water from Lake Lanier. This is big news for our county and state as we secure water supply to meet the needs of the county. Furthermore, on Monday, February 22, 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the ongoing water wars case between Georgia and Florida, a dispute over Georgia’s water usage that Florida claims led to the desolation of its oyster industry in the Apalachicola Bay. Georgia has strong support in Congress from its Congressional delegation.
To watch a recording of the State of the Region Address, CLICK HERE.