Cherokee County, Georgia
on the move
Where metro meets the mountains!
From staff reports
CHEROKEE COUNTY, GA.––Cherokee County, Ga. is a community on the move, from its humble beginnings to a bustling county with both suburban and rural attributes.
Business View recently sat down with County Manager Geoffrey Morton, Office of Economic Development President and CEO Misti Martin and Communications Director Erika Neldner. They shared more about what makes Cherokee County such a desirable place to live, work and play.
The original Cherokee County was comprised of all of northwest Georgia and was later split into 21 separate counties. The Georgia State Legislature officially created Cherokee County on Dec. 26, 1831. While Cherokee County now includes seven cities, the county seat is Canton, formerly called Etowah, for the local river that’s so important to the region.
During the Civil War as part of the Atlanta Campaign in 1864, the then-village of Canton––at the time home to just 200 or so inhabitants––was partially destroyed, burned by Union troops. After the war, the community rebounded, eventually becoming a prosperous mill town. In the ensuing years, Canton gained a global reputation for its manufacture of blue-jean fabric, known as “Canton denim.” The denim, made by the Canton Cotton Mills, was famously sold to Japanese manufacturers. Although the Canton Cotton Mills closed in 1981, it is now one of metro Atlanta’s hottest adaptive re-use developments – The Mill on Etowah.
In more recent years, Cherokee County has experienced exceptional growth, now home to nearly 280,000 people and a sought-after community for those desiring close proximity to Atlanta while also enjoying a more suburban lifestyle.
Located just 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta, Cherokee County is part of the 11-county Atlanta Regional Commission and is one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Georgia. Neldner added it boasts awarding-winning parks and recreational facilities, an exceptional public school system, and it’s a destination for the corporate headquarters of many companies.
“When you think of Cherokee County, it’s probably one of the most sought-after communities in the Atlanta metro area,” Morton said. “We’re known for our strong quality of life, low taxes and our excellent educational opportunities. We have that small-town feel, but we’re still in close proximity to Atlanta.”
Morton cited the County’s strong municipalities––Canton, Woodstock, Holly Springs, Ball Ground, Waleska, Mountain Park and Nelson––and their retail influences, including music venues, restaurants and breweries. Downtown Woodstock has become an economic hub over the last two decades, drawing in 3 million event-goers and shoppers each year. Canton, dubbed “The Coolest Small Town in America,” brings downtown to life with vibrant shopping opportunities, great dining options, and history education at the Cherokee County History Center.
Smaller incorporated towns like Holly Springs, Ball Ground and Waleska have their own unique features. Holly Springs, centrally located, honors its history with the one of the County’s remaining train depots repurposed into a community center. The city also is embarking on a multi-million-dollar, mixed-use Town Center project primed for a variety of residential options, restaurants retail and office space. Waleska is home to the picturesque private liberal arts college, Reinhardt University, and Ball Ground has a booming downtown with its own destination dining locations.
Cherokee County encompasses 434 square miles, home to those thriving municipalities and larger swaths of land for those wanting more acreage or agricultural opportunities. Morton added that the County boasts of vast acreage, some of which are occupied by horse farms. This unique blend of rural and urban living gives residents the best of both worlds.
Among the County’s land masses, Lake Allatoona spans Cherokee, Cobb and Bartow counties, and serves as a tremendous recreational opportunity. It is fed by the Etowah River and offers refreshing recreation during the heat of Georgia summers.
While fishing, boating and skiing are marvelous recreational opportunities, Cherokee Recreation and Parks provides a plethora of facilities and programming. It’s also home to several organized athletic events each year. Sports Tourism alone impacts Cherokee County to the tune of more than $10 million annually.
Martin and the team at COED work at the state, regional, and local level to ensure economic development success.
“We take a very holistic approach to economic development,” stated Martin. “We work to recruit new businesses and industries to Cherokee while supporting existing industries with expansion. We also offer unique entrepreneurial programs and resources tailored to small businesses and serve as the liaison to the Georgia Film Office supporting the state’s booming film industry.”
Martin added that there is also a strong focus on workforce development to support existing businesses and target industries for recruitment. COED has been planting the seeds for future economic success by planning and preparing sites for businesses that want to locate or expand in the County in the months and years ahead.
“Without sites and buildings, we cannot grow our business base,” Martin explained.
The presence of corporate headquarters, as well as mixed-use developments, contribute to Cherokee County’s attractive quality of life. Martin noted several industries located in Cherokee County, such as Universal Alloy Corporation, a global aerospace company headquartered in Canton with an additional facility in Ball Ground. Chart Industries, which provides services and equipment for the cryogenic liquefaction of various gases, has its global headquarters in Ball Ground. Another example is Jaipur Living, a rug and home décor company, that recently invested more than $20 million in its facility in southwest Cherokee.
Another crucial component of economic development is a skilled workforce—hence the establishment of the Cherokee Workforce Collaborative in 2016.
“We found that we needed to have better lines of communication between education and business, so we brought those groups together to discuss their needs and find solutions,” Martin said. “As a part of this effort, we are also providing opportunities for graduating and or soon-to-be graduate students to find career pathways.”
COED’s summer internship program provides high school students with early exposure to potential career paths and has gained momentum since its establishment five years ago.
In addition to the Summer Internship Program, the Be Pro Be Proud Georgia initiative connects students with employers and training providers in need of their skillsets. Martin explained how the Be Pro Be Proud Georgia program is closing the skilled professions gap, “College isn’t for everyone; nor should it be. Countless members of skilled trades, from plumbing to electrical work, can make far higher annual salaries than university graduates. A high degree of training is necessary, but not a four-year degree.”
Planning for the future
Since 1978, Morton said, the County has used a comprehensive planning process that is updated every five years. Citizen input––what folks want to see come to fruition and what they’d rather not have in their community––helps guide County staffers and the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, who in turn guide developers and real estate professionals on what the community’s collective vision should be with regard to future land development. This not only includes prospective businesses and industry but also transportation infrastructure, parks and recreation needs, and walking trail development.
Future planning for the Cherokee County Regional Airport, located in Ball Ground, will open the doors for larger corporate jet traffic in coming years.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a recent redevelopment project included a 10,000-square-foot airport terminal and the lengthening of the runway to 5,000 feet, which can accept some corporate jets, according to Morton, as well as a new parallel taxiway, instrument landing equipment and new hangars. The new facilities are capable of accommodating some 200 corporate aircraft in hangars and providing 100 tie-downs for smaller craft.
Morton said discussions are now ongoing with the Federal Aviation Administration to extend it to 6,000 feet.
Many airports around Atlanta are being improved these days, he added, “so ours is definitely an up-and-coming airport.”
Summarizing Cherokee County’s widely ranging, overall efforts, Morton stressed the importance of local, regional and statewide collaboration.
“To get things done,” he said, “and make things happen. We all need to work together. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
AT A GLANCE
Cherokee County, Georgia
Where: near Atlanta