BAMSouth.com Contributing Correspondent
Dekalb County, Georgia serves as one of the largest counties in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA Metroplex, with a population estimated over 700,000, as of 2012. As such, Dekalb, like many municipalities, must both cooperate in enticing businesses and capital to Georgia as a whole as well as compete with other surrounding counties, principally Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Rockdale, and Forsyth among others, for businesses and government agencies to relocate their headquarters or operations.
In terms of economic development in the Metro Atlanta area, Dekalb County stands at the epicenter of an unprecedented growth rate both in terms of the city’s overall continued population growth as well as capital investments both from the public and private sector. Dekalb Chamber of Commerce President, Leonardo McClarty, when asked about what Dekalb is doing to entice businesses to Dekalb, emphasized the importance of Decatur—Dekalb County’s municipal seat—and its location relative to Downtown Atlanta, key Interstate Highways (85, 285, and 20), and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. In addition, he mentioned the significant number of registered small businesses located in the county alone—the estimated number being somewhere in the range of 18,000 to 25,000, as of 2013.
However, where there is incentive for growth, there also exists major impediments to said growth. Chief among these is the stagnation of mass transit growth in the Metro Atlanta Area. The last two Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) heavy-rail stations were completed nearly 13 years ago; since that time both bus and heavy-rail services have been reduced and fares increased as a result of organizational mismanagement, hostility from the “Gold Dome” (Georgia State Government), and a unwillingness of residents and politicians to admit that the suburban sprawl model, which Atlanta is famous for, is very detrimental to its long-term economic growth.
With all of the above in mind, MARTA’s new Executive Officer Keith Parker, has recently authorized studies to examine the plausibility of further expanding the Red Line past its current termini station at North Springs as well as the Blue line past the Indian Creek Station further through Dekalb and even into the neighboring county of Rockdale.
Another factor that may present a significant challenge to Dekalb officials is the ongoing investigation into former CEO Burrell Ellis’ financial background and accusations of extortion, theft, and conspiracy. This isn’t the first time the Dekalb Executive Office has been under the prosecutor’s light: former CEO and Congressional Candidate Vernon Jones was accused of corruption when he used county assets to assist the Chapel Hill Harvester “Megachurch”, led by the late Earl Paulk, by donating county property and purchasing some of the Church’s property assets in order to help overcome financial problems. In another case, Jones was accused of racial discrimination against several white employees of the Dekalb County Parks and Recreations Department and also intimidation and coercion against a black employee because he refused to find inflammatory “dirt” on the three employees in question.
While isolated cases of political corruption and white collar crime are ultimately insignificant and in no way represent the county as a whole, the fact remains that these two examples of corruption within the Executive Office of Dekalb County could potentially dissuade private companies and federal or state agencies from doing business here. Many rust-belt cities have had past cases of corrupt municipal governments and have suffered—and are suffering—the effects of such a tarnished image. Metro Atlanta has only within the last 30 years been able to emerge from the economic and social problems of the 1960s and 70s and does not need any new or additional stigmas tarnishing its reputation.
With these and other factors in mind, Dekalb County officials have their work cut out for them as far as economic development is concerned—but it is this correspondent’s opinion that, like the rest of the country, Dekalb County and Metro Atlanta will continue to experience the type of growth that brought us the Olympics in 1996 as well as defined us as an international “Alpha City.”
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