Over the past year, Forsyth County has implemented changes designed to bring business into the County, as well as providing assistance to new and existing businesses as they navigate the permitting processes. To attract new businesses, Forsyth County has updated its Economic Development Ordinance and adopted a Schedule of Criteria for the first time. The Schedule of Criteria presents the business community with an outline of the type of businesses that the county is looking to incent while also outlining the criteria for incentive eligibility. The target industries in the Schedule of Criteria were identified in a strategic plan that was formulated with significant community input. The Economic Development Ordinance can be found here and the Schedule of Criteria can be found here.
“I think that when people hear the phrase ‘economic development’ they immediately think of big businesses and big announcements. While I think all of that is an important part of the equation, Forsyth County Commissioners have taken it a step further by recognizing that success is measured even more greatly by follow-through, by making sure that businesses are able to reach the finish line by opening their doors and really thriving,” says Economic Development Director Vivian Vakili.
Vakili is part of the county’s administration and part of her role entails assisting larger commercial projects that receive an expedited permitting incentive through the county’s Economic Development Ordinance that navigates issues spanning multiple departments. Below are comments made by business leaders in Forsyth County:
“The change started about four years ago with the people of Forsyth electing officials to focus on bringing more jobs, and those officials successfully putting the pieces and people in place to execute the strategy. Due to the work by county employees like Eric Johnson and Vivian Vakili, and Robert Long with the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce, Forsyth County now has projects like ours, Shiloh Technology Center – a 405,000 square foot industrial business center. It has been fascinating to be in the middle of it all and see the positive change.” – Blake Dexter, President, Dexter Companies, LLC.
“The key items that really helped us get through the county process were the preliminary meeting when our team had the opportunity to meet with all departments, the expediting of the permitting process, the expediting of the CUP process and the prompt availability of inspectors. In short, Vivian’s overall supervision of the project at the county level was a critical component to its successful completion.” – Christian Vivier, CEO, Gant Medical
“As a business owner who is trying to build in Forsyth County, my experience was made much easier due to Vivian’s help. I approached Vivian for help and she immediately brought all essential people from all county departments to the table to discuss all the issues; whereas, If I had to do it, it would have been impossible. Vivian, along with other staff, not only answered our questions but were proactive in letting us know about anything that the county may require that we may have overlooked. Vivian, in particular, is an asset to the county. The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce also lent us their support when we encountered issues where we needed to ask for waivers. Love the professional, friendly and welcoming nature of Forsyth County!” – Vipul Patel, President, Exceptional Hospitality (Country Inn & Suites)
The Forsyth County Planning and Community Development Department hired Jerry Oberholtzer to serve as the department’s first development & permitting advocate in 2018 to also assist businesses with permitting issues. Oberholtzer helps customers navigate issues specific to the Planning and Community Development Department, such as questions about zoning, residential guidelines, permit status and code changes. Oberholtzer also attends meetings hosted by Vakili that span multiple departments and he serves as an additional point of contact for the Planning & Community Development Department.
“Powell Property Group works in several Metro Atlanta counties. We deal daily with public officials and county employees. We have never witnessed anyone taking action like Forsyth County has. Hiring Vivian (Economic Development Director) and Jerry (Development and Permitting Advocate) is the best thing this county has done in years. Both are consummate professionals who actually care about results. For example, recently we had a client who was trying to purchase an office building in our new office condominium project, McFarland Station. There was some confusing language in the code that could be interpreted in a couple of ways, one of which was detrimental to the business. Vivian set up a meeting and had several staff members there within two days, not ‘next week’. Action was taken to the point that Jerry ran to get an answer to another question. When we left, the client could not believe the attention and support that she had been given.” – Dennis Powell, Owner, Powell Property Group, Inc.
“It’s great to hear such positive feedback from our customers; I think it truly speaks to the incredible leadership of our Board of Commissioners,” said County Manager Eric Johnson. “I also hear from Vivian on a regular basis that these initiatives would not have been possible without our highly qualified and competent staff from every department in this county that are willing to jump in and answer questions, resolve issues and think outside the box to help our customers in every way possible.”