Barrow County, Georgia
balancing growth with quality of life
An ideal location for industrial growth, Barrow County, Georgia offers a balanced approach to economic development and a great lifestyle for its residents
Barrow County, the eighth fastest-growing county in Georgia, is focused on maintaining a balanced approach to economic development and quality of life. It offers popular tourist destinations like the renowned Chateau Elan Winery and Resort, which welcomes around 800,000 visitors annually and ranks among Georgia’s top 12 tourist destinations. Fort Yargo State Park is another major attraction, with approximately half a million visitors each year enjoying its diverse recreational activities.
As Chairman of the Barrow County Board of Commissioners Pat Graham recounts, “Eleven years ago, when I came into office, we were just coming out of the recession. So, it was very important for us to be on a positive growth pattern for residential growth, commercial growth, and industrial growth. Part of that always involves a lot of planning. So, we’ve worked on updating our comprehensive plan, and we’ve worked on updating our transportation plan. And we’ve been extremely successful.”
Barrow County’s Infrastructure Investments Fuel Growth and Opportunity
Barrow County has focused on enhancing its community infrastructure by investing in wastewater treatment facilities and water supply. The county allocated $15.5 million to upgrade the Tanners Bridge wastewater treatment facility, supporting the growth of residential, commercial, and industrial areas along the Highway 316 innovation corridor. Additionally, the county is working on expanding the Barber Creek wastewater treatment plant, increasing its processing capacity from half a million gallons per day to one and a half million gallons per day.
A water supply reservoir that addresses surface water requirements both presently and into the future was the result of regional collaboration. “One of the infrastructure projects that I’m very proud of is our partnership in the upper Oconee Water Basin Authority,” says Graham. “We partnered in the late 90s with three neighboring counties to build a water supply reservoir. The capacity of that facility right now produces about 21 million gallons a day, and we’re in the process of doubling our water capacity to 42 million gallons a day of water availability.”
Noting that Barrow County currently uses 2 million gallons daily and will have seven times that amount available when the project is complete, she stresses that this abundant water supply will meet the county’s water needs on a 50-year planning horizon. “That to me is fantastic. To be that far ahead of where we need to be, to position ourselves that way opens us up tremendously for business and industry to locate here.”
Strategic Location, Industrial Growth, and Job Opportunities
Ben McDaniel, Director of the Barrow-Braselton Joint Economic Development Authority, shares that the county is also focused on industrial recruitment, which has its challenges in a geographical area spanning only 163 square miles. “We’re a very small county, so we have to be very deliberate about what we’re trying to get and where we can put it,” he acknowledges.
Ideally located in northeast Georgia, Barrow County is positioned amidst significant economic developments, including the Rowan project in Gwinnett County which represents a 2000-acre life science campus. Also in the region, Meissner in Athens will add 1,700 jobs, SK Battery in Commerce is on track to add 3,000 jobs, while Rivian, an electric vehicle manufacturer, will add 7,500 jobs to the community.
“And here is Barrow County, right in the middle of that,” he boasts. With the advantages of both a tourism corridor along I-85 and industrial parks along State Road 316, combined with robust infrastructure and a strategic location, McDaniel believes Barrow County is “in the perfect position for prosperity.”
In 2022 Spring Mountain Center, a global manufacturer and distributor of bathroom and kitchen fixtures, announced Barrow County’s Park 53 industrial complex as the location for their new facility. “They made a $45 million investment that’s going to bring up to 205 new jobs to the area. We’re excited about that,” remarks McDaniel.
He reports that US Lumber is also in the construction phases of a large facility in the county. “They are investing $31.5 million into our community, and they’re looking to bring 125 new jobs to the area.” The purchase of a former jet engine manufacturing facility by PNK Group will be an important contribution to the region’s growth, as McDaniel elaborates.
“In Newton County, there’s a project called Archer Aviation, which is drone taxis. So that’s the level of technology that we’re dealing with. In Barrow County, PNK Group is going to make the industrial buildings for Archer Aviation and Rivian in Walton County. PNK Group is bringing $15 to $20 million to start with. We think that number is going to climb exponentially higher and at full build-out, they’re going to add 120 new jobs to Barrow County.”
Traffic Infrastructure and Housing Initiatives
A major project through the Georgia Department of Transportation to improve areas along State Road 316, including the West Winder bypass in Barrow County, is expected to cost over $423 million, and greatly improve traffic flow along this corridor.
“The state of Georgia’s investment in that corridor is very significant,” says Graham. “They’re taking what was a full access highway and making it a limited access highway. I believe that Barrow County is going to be positioned as one of the most sought-after industrial corridors in the state when these projects are finished.”
The county is also addressing housing, to keep up with the surging population. “We’ve approved about 2,300 residential units and 1,900 of those are single-family homes,” Graham relays. “We’ve got a variety of housing products available. We need those because, with the business growth, we need to have the workforce growth as well.” She shares that Barrow County has implemented a comprehensive plan that effectively guides land use and development, designating areas for residential and industrial growth while prioritizing infrastructure and transportation networks.
“Jobs are located in places where they have good transportation access, availability of water and sewer infrastructure, and a good business climate. We also have worked very hard to keep our tax burden low, because we know business and industry is very sensitive to what they’re paying in taxes, and what they’re paying for utilities,” she conveys.
Barrow County’s Approach to Workforce Development and Healthcare Expansion
The Barrow County CTAE (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education) program has received recognition and certification from the Georgia Department of Economic Development for its effective collaboration with local industries and economic development initiatives.
“Our school system and our three high schools in Barrow County do well for both work-based learning, internships, and externships, where we send teachers into the workforce over the summer, so they can preach the gospel of some of our local businesses as well. We believe the riches are in the niches and Barrow County does a really good job of everything,” asserts McDaniel.
The presence of a workforce development campus adjacent to the industrial park along State Road 316 further enhances the county’s unique attributes. This campus includes an elementary school, Sims Academy for Innovation and Technology, Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy, and Lanier Technical College Barrow campus.
“There are several dual enrollment programs where Barrow County high school kids can go directly into Lanier Tech and take classes, and if you time it right and work hard enough you can graduate with an associate degree for $0. Some of their larger programs are Mechatronics which feed right into the area in which we’re looking to play, with the light manufacturing that we’re seeing in the area,” he says.
As for healthcare, Graham suggests, “We are fortunate to have the Northeast Georgia Health System that is a major partner in our community. They’ve done a major land purchase, and they are planning a new hospital facility just outside of their current five-year capital plan.”
In the works currently is a 34,000-square-foot medical office building on their campus, which will also include high-end apartment units geared to young professionals. “That will bring 25 to 30 new jobs. But what it does, is it begins to populate the medical professionals at this new location. So, when they bring their new hospital facility online, they’ve got the medical professionals already there, in that facility.”
As one of the top hospitals in the state of Georgia, Northeast Georgia Hospital System’s Barrow campus was awarded the 2022 Human Experience Guardian of Excellence Award, signifying their status in the top 5% for employee happiness and engagement.
Looking towards a vibrant future, McDaniel says Barrow County is proactively working on rebranding to enhance its visibility and transparency. This includes the development of new taglines, logos, and a website to better serve the community. The county aims to become more prominent and position itself as a hub for industrial development in Northeast Georgia.
“This is a great place to live, work and play. This is a wonderful place to raise a family. With good industrial job recruitment, we make sure that our children can stay here and work here and raise their families here. So, we’re focused on good quality job growth, and quality of life,” Graham concludes.
AT A GLANCE
Barrow County, Georgia
What: A county experiencing robust growth in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.
Where: Northeast Georgia