In 2006, Gwinnett County did not have a coherent, proactive focus on economic development. As a result, the county frequently lost new business to neighboring cities and states with a more aggressive and focused economic development posture. Additionally, insufficient attention was being paid to encouraging expansion of local businesses already operating in the county. The consequence for Gwinnett was that the county’s tax base was not as robust as it needed to be in order to meet the demands of Gwinnett’s growing and changing population.
The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce responded to this negative reality by establishing an innovative economic development vehicle within the Chamber. Partnership Gwinnett was comprised of the Chamber, Gwinnett County Government, the Gwinnett healthcare community, and numerous local businesses and community-based organizations. Realizing the highly favorable reputation of Gwinnett County Public Schools and its positive impact in attracting and retaining businesses for the county, the Chamber invited the school district to be actively involved in Partnership Gwinnett.
Due to the funding restrictions and limitations on a local school district, GCPS could not and did not make a monetary contribution to Partnership Gwinnett. The funds allocated to support Partnership Gwinnett had to be dedicated to expenditures for which the district received a service in return. Therefore, the district elected to fund two positions for the Partnership Gwinnett initiative devoted full-time to economic development strategies. It also was important to us that Partnership Gwinnett focus on local existing industries to ensure they continued to make Gwinnett their home and possibly expand their operations here. Increasing the county’s business/industry tax base benefits all in the county. It promotes innovation, creates jobs, increases the county’s wealth, and generates revenue that is sorely needed to fund the services provided by entities like Gwinnett County Government and Gwinnett County Public Schools.
In response to the Chamber’s invitation, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks approached the Gwinnett County Board of Education about the district appropriately joining the Partnership Gwinnett initiative. The Board agreed with the benefits outlined and the funding approach identified. The Board insisted that the funding be done on an annual basis and that the benefits of the district’s involvement be evaluated each year.
With the economic downturn that struck in 2007-08 and continues today, the significant value of Partnership Gwinnett to our county’s economic vitality has become even more apparent. In its first five years, Partnership Gwinnett generated over $800 million in economic development, boosting the school district’s revenue from the local tax base by more than $6 million. The proactive and productive economic development posture for Gwinnett County continues to reap benefits for the school district, and we are proud to be an investor in Partnership Gwinnett.
As a school district, we believe there is significant value in ensuring the economic vitality of Gwinnett County.
GCPS has provided two positions that have been devoted to economic development strategies at a total cost of $150,000 a year. These positions work to increase the property tax base (the district’s only source of local revenue), thus increasing the funds available to put toward teaching and learning.