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Georgia Mountains Regional Commission


Text and photos submitted by the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, August 2012


Scenic photo of the Georgia Mountains Region, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Georgia Mountains Region is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission is a local development district created to help promote and guide development of the Georgia Mountains Region's human, natural, physical, social, and economic resources. The commission offers a wide variety of services to its 51 local governments, working together to formulate goals and strategies for area growth and development. It serves the following 13 counties: Banks, Dawson, Forsyth, Franklin, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, and White; and 38 municipalities within these counties.

Encompassing approximately 3,500 square miles, the Georgia Mountains Region is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The region is bordered by North Carolina to the north and South Carolina to the east, while other Georgia counties border the region to the south and west. The region is home to both Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.

The Georgia Mountains Region, with a current population of 627,333, has grown tremendously over the past several decades. In fact, the region's population growth exceeded both the state and national rates, and it appears that this trend will continue in future years. Much of the growth taking place within the region is occurring in areas where transportation corridors are present. Other migration factors can be attributed to individual economic factors, retirement population, and urban sprawl and spillover from metropolitan Atlanta.

Natural Resources

The natural scenic beauty of the Georgia Mountains Region is one of its most important resources, along with its unique culture, heritage, and history. Topographically, over half the area is mountainous, with the remainder being rolling hills and fertile valleys. The highest mountain in the region and also the highest point in Georgia is Brasstown Bald (elevation 4,784 feet above sea level), located in Towns County. Nine of the thirteen counties have National Forest lands located within them. Approximately 492,000 acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest covers the northern section of the region.


The region is also blessed with many lakes and rivers, including the state's largest body of water, Lake Lanier, located on the Hall-Forsyth County line. The 38,500-acre lake was constructed between 1954 and 1957 by damming the Chattahoochee River in Buford, Georgia. Lake Lanier boasts over 7 million visitors each year and is the most visited U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake in the United States. Another sizeable reservoir is Lake Hartwell, which was created on the Savannah River near Hartwell, Georgia, in the southeastern portion of the region near South Carolina. Both lakes provide flood control, electrical power, major recreational facilities, and public water supply for a portion of the Georgia Mountains Region and a portion of metro Atlanta. In the northern part of the region, Lake Chatuge and Lake Nottely are operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Tourism

Scenic photo of beach on Lake Chatuge in Towns County, Georgia.
The region's many natural and recreational attractions, such as Towns County Beach on Lake Chatuge, support a strong local tourism industry.

Tourism plays an important role throughout the Georgia Mountains Region and continues to be a growing industry for the state of Georgia as well as the region. In fact, the tourism industry is nearly a billion-dollar-per-year industry in Georgia and represents a large portion of annual revenues to the Georgia Mountains Region. Visitors to the region are attracted by the abundance of outdoor activities and numerous state parks, including Amicalola Falls and Tallulah Gorge. At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall in Georgia and considered one of the seven "Natural Wonders of Georgia." One of the most breathtaking canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge is 2 miles long and 1,000 feet deep and is one of the most visited attractions in Georgia.
Scenic photo of vineyard in Lumpkin County, Georgia.
North Georgia's flourishing agritourism sector includes a growing number of vineyards and wineries.


The region also has a strong heritage and history as identified by the influx of museums, mountain arts and crafts, and historic sites. The city of Dahlonega was the site of the first major Gold Rush in the United States. Numerous festivals throughout the year, including Oktober Fest in Helen, Gold Rush in Dahlonega, the Sorghum Festival in Blairsville, the Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville, and the Georgia Mountains Fair in Hiawassee, draw thousands of visitors per year and help celebrate the history of the region.

Agritourism is especially popular in North Georgia. Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the rapidly emerging wine industry. The topography, elevation, and suitable soils make the Georgia Mountains Region an ideal place for growing wine grapes. The red clay soil in the region is similar to the "terra rossa" soil of Italy's wine country and provides good oxidation. Over 13 wineries and vineyards are located in the Georgia Mountains Region.

Economic Drivers

The Georgia Mountains Region has a diversified economic base in both domestic and international markets. There are many economic drivers in our region, including the agricultural, automotive, industrial manufacturing, healthcare, and educational sectors, which provide a stable business climate and environment. All of these factors enhance the quality of life and make the Georgia Mountains Region an ideal place to live and work.


The Georgia Mountains Region accounts for approximately one-third of the farm gate value of poultry in Georgia, with a statewide economic impact through both packaging and transportation of poultry products. In fact, Hall County is referred to as the "Poultry Capital of the World."

The Georgia Mountains Region has proven to be a strategic site for advanced manufacturing. The core transportation network throughout the region, including Interstates 85 and 985, and US Highway 441, strategically aligns the region for expanded business and industry in both domestic and international markets. The region is also part of a large automotive "cluster." The Interstate 85 corridor traversing the region serves as an important economic tool linking the Mercedes plant in Alabama, the Kia plant in Georgia, and the BMW plant in South Carolina. As a result of this core network, many automotive manufacturers and suppliers are located in the region, such as ZF Industries, IMS Gear, TI Automotive, Bosal Industries, Kautex, and Tenneco. All of these factors position the Georgia Mountains to expand its presence as a significant player in the global economy.

At more than 1,000,000 square feet and a total employment of 850, Kubota Tractor Corporation has recently expanded its operations in Hall County, making it the home of the company's largest manufacturing plant. Production at this facility accounts for one-third of all Kubota-branded equipment sold in the U.S.

ZF Wind Power, LLC, has recently begun production at a new facility that manufactures 16-ton wind turbine gear boxes. The company aims to produce 2,000 gear boxes per year. ZF Wind Power represents a $95 million investment in Hall County, employing 220 people (in addition to the more than 200 people employed in the ZF Industries auto transmission factory.)

Ritz Instrument Transformers expanded its U.S. presence by opening a new facility in Hartwell, employing 52 people. The company manufactures medium and low voltage instrument transformers at the Hartwell facility, which also serves as the company's North American corporate and sales headquarters.

Business Recruitment and Retention

Business recruitment and retention for the region are dependent upon many social and demographic characteristics, and the availability of adequate healthcare is no exception. The region is fortunate to have an "anchor" in the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, located in Gainesville, Georgia. At a total employment of approximately 4,000, Northeast Georgia Health Systems, Inc., has generated more than $1.03 billion in total economic impact for the region, according to a 2010 report from the Georgia Hospital Association. For the past seven years, the Northeast Georgia Medical Center has been ranked the #1 heart hospital in Georgia. The center was also ranked first in Georgia in gastrointestinal care and in ten other specialties.


As the population of the region increases, additional medical services are needed to meet the demand for specialty services. The Northeast Georgia Medical Center is currently in the design stages of a new medical campus and hospital. Situated on a 119-acre campus in the city of Braselton, the South Hall Medical Campus and Hospital will include a 100-bed hospital and medical office building. At a total investment of $200 million, 500 new jobs will be created. The campus currently consists of an urgent care center and outpatient services including imaging, laboratory services, and physical and occupational therapy.

The region's workforce is considered one of its most competitive business assets. A skilled workforce is critical to economic development in the region. The Georgia Mountains Region is home to seven public and private colleges and universities, and two technical colleges, which have satellite campuses. Lanier Technical College is home to the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing Excellence for technologies in automation, controls, and robotics. The newly formed University of North Georgia (a merger of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega) will be a huge economic driver for workforce development in the region. By creating a regional university with satellite campuses in both Gainesville and Cumming, the workforce development needs of the region will be better addressed throughout the region for enhanced economic and community development.

According to a June 2011 report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth in the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business, the regional economic impact from North Georgia College and State University was over $230 million and accounted for 2,462 jobs in a six-county area. In addition, the economic impact of Gainesville State College reached $204 million in 2010 and generated approximately 2,250 full and part-time jobs.

A reliable and robust broadband network is one of the leading infrastructure requirements from businesses and industries competing in the global economy. Global pressures, competitive challenges, reduced budgets, increased service needs, and greater expectations for quality all focus attention on the need for broadband for economic development both locally and regionally. Recently, the nonprofit North Georgia Network (NGN) was established to serve an eight-county area, including Dawson, Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union, and White Counties. The NGN is building a core fiber optic network from Atlanta through North Georgia, and construction is expected to be completed by December.

The potential regional impact of the proposed fiber optic ring through the Georgia Mountains is immense. Broadband will serve the area as the catalyst for improving economic development with enhanced education, healthcare, workforce development, business expansion and recruitment, helping to create and/or retain direct and indirect jobs.

Recent Projects

Exterior photo of the Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center, in Lavonia, Georgia.
The new Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center, in Lavonia, provides specialty health services not previously available in the region.

Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center (Lavonia, Franklin County)
Ty Cobb Healthcare System, Inc., (TCHS) is a non-profit healthcare organization based in Franklin County, Georgia, that serves the residents of rural Northeast Georgia. TCHS operated two rural hospitals, both 50 years or older, in a tri-county area. Over the last 5 years, the two hospitals have lost a total of more than $12.6 million in operations. A partnership of more than 60 local primary care and specialty physicians has constructed a new 144,000-square-foot, 56-bed regional medical center. Named after baseball legend Ty Cobb, who was from Franklin County, the new Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center offers patients and physicians a modern healthcare facility that enhances the quality of care and strengthens the delivery of services. Opened in June 2012, the hospital provides the region with specialty health services not previously offered in the region, such as cardiology and neurology. At a total investment of $70 million, TCHS will retain 350 jobs and create 25 new jobs at the new hospital facility. In addition, a $22 million medical office building is being constructed and will create an additional 25 jobs.

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission prepared grant applications and secured funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration for water and sewer infrastructure for the city of Lavonia, and from the Community Development Block Grant–Employment Incentive Program and the OneGeorgia Authority for road improvements for Franklin County to support this project.

ZF Wind Power, LLC (Gainesville, Hall County)
The ZF Group is one of the 15 largest automotive suppliers in the world, with a total workforce of 61,000 employees in 185 locations and in more than 30 countries. ZF Industries, the company's Gainesville facility, opened in 1987. The facility currently employs 220 people, with a payroll of $12 million. The facility manufactures six-speed manual transmissions and parking brakes for light-duty trucks, along with transmissions and axles for construction machinery and axle drives for passenger cars and sport utility vehicles. The primary customers are General Motors, Ford Motor Company, John Deere, and JLG.

ZF recently established a manufacturing facility for the production of the next generation of high-efficiency and high-reliability wind turbine gear boxes. Production on the gear boxes began in January 2012. The gear boxes are being developed in partnership with one of the world's top five producers of wind turbines to be used in newly designed 2MW wind turbines. The facility yielded an investment of approximately $89 million and supported 214 jobs. Approximately 170 of the 214 jobs were new, and 44 jobs were retained from a manual transmission production line that had ended. This is quite an accomplishment for a state that doesn't currently have operating wind turbines.

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission secured Regional Economic Business Assistance funding for land acquisition and site development for the Gainesville–Hall County Development Authority to support this project.

North East Georgia Network—Hart, Franklin, Stephens, Banks, Habersham, and Rabun Counties
The Joint Development Authority (JDA) of Franklin, Hart, and Stephens Counties, in collaboration with the JDA of Banks, Habersham, and Rabun Counties, plans to build a fiber optic backbone network that will provide broadband service throughout the six-county area for economic development and growth.

The JDA of Franklin, Hart, and Stephens Counties has identified the core network route, which consists of 125 miles throughout the six-county region. The proposed project will serve to interconnect with existing North Georgia Network routes and other points of presence. The goal of this project is to provide a broadband network that will stimulate economic development throughout the Georgia Mountains Region. The project will directly and indirectly enhance regional competitiveness in education, healthcare, government services, business development and workforce development, and will create many jobs as a result of the broadband network.

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission secured a OneGeorgia Authority grant to support this project.

The Georgia Mountains Region is thriving. The region is a leader in the state of Georgia and is strongly involved in transportation, water, renewable energy, broadband, and tourism development projects for long-term economic sustainability and improved quality of life.

For more information on the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, visit its Web site at www.gmrc.ga.gov.