The Fayette Chamber of Commerce believes our county is on the cusp of greatness, and they don’t intend to rest on their laurels. At a Tuesday gathering at their headquarters, the Chamber introduced their new Economic Development Task Force aimed at attracting and retaining workforce talent to sustain Fayette for generations.
Fayette Chamber President and CEO Colin Martin led the discussion, referencing a quote from Tyrion Lannister in the series finale of Game of Thrones.
“‘What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? No, it’s stories. There’s nothing more powerful than a good story,’” Martin relayed. “And who has a better story than Fayette County?”
In a county filled with creatives, Fayette Visioning launched the “Create Your Story” branding in 2017.
“It’s about inviting people to come to Fayette County and create their story alongside ours,” said Martin. “It’s a great story we have. It’s a great story to tell.”
One story of Fayette is that of an aging population. Current demographics show the 40-64 age bracket makes up 36 percent of Fayette, followed by 0-19 at 26 percent, 20-39 at 20 percent, and 65-plus at 18 percent. If trends continue on the current pace, by 2023 the 65-plus bracket will make up 22 percent.
“When you turn 65, the education portion of property tax drops 15 percent, so that starts to affect our world class education system,” said Martin.
As Fayette continues to age, the Chamber wants to ensure the county does not stagnate. At the heart of the problem is ensuring that young residents don’t leave for college and never return. Currently, the young professional demographic of ages 20-49 makes up only 33.6 percent of Fayette’s population. It’s a problem affecting many communities, but it hit Fayette harder than anyone.
“Between 2007 and 2014, 31 percent of our millennial age population left Fayette County and did not come back,” said Martin. “That not only led the Atlanta region, that not only led the state, that in fact led the nation for millennial age population loss.”
The question is how to tell Fayette’s story in a way that is appealing to younger demographics. To keep the county thriving, there will need to be an embracing of a generational shift.
“I think Fayette County is cool, but we’ve got to tell our story to make sure that folks looking know that we’re cool so that they will come here and live here.”
Studies show that professionals look to live in areas with amenities and high-density environments where people gather for dining, shopping, exercising, and a general sense of community.
Martin cited Columbus, Ga. and Greenville, S.C. as cities that successfully navigated building Live-Work-Shop-Play communities using a model of public, private, and philanthropic partnership to build.
“We have the bones in Fayette County to do this. We’re not saying tear down Fayette County. We’re not saying make Fayette County midtown or Buckhead or downtown Atlanta,” said Martin, citing the new Fayetteville city hall project, the villages of Peachtree City, and Pinewood Forest as major selling points. “The message is let’s build on what is uniquely and authentically Fayette County.”
Attractive jobs are already available in and around Fayette in aviation, movies, and other industries. While the push to bring new companies to town continues, there must also be a focus on existing businesses.
“Our best corporate citizens are another community’s best prospects,” said Martin. “We have got to make sure that as a community we’re taking care of not just trying to attract companies to come to here but taking care of the companies that are here.”
The Economic Development Task Force will be charged with making recommendations in three key areas of workforce sustainability: Desirable and economically feasible housing and retail tailored to young professionals, a vibrant art and entertainment culture, and targeted recruitment of military veterans.
The goal is to have recommendations, along with a timeline to implement them, by Veterans Day.
“We believe that we can attract the talent to come to Fayette County, not by trying to be somebody else, but by being authentically what’s us,” said Martin. “The best part of the story is yet to come. Our best days are ahead of us.”