The Fayette County Development Authority has named its new President, Alan Durham, to fill the role vacated earlier this year by Matt Forshee.
Durham has a background in economic development, having earned a Bachelors and Masters in Planning at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Historic Preservation. Now he’ll be working at the Historic Fayetteville Courthouse, less than ten miles from where he grew up.
“I grew up down here. I’m familiar with the south side and Fayette County. I grew up seven miles away from this office,” said the Jonesboro High School graduate. “Getting back to my roots was important.”
Durham previously operated his own consulting business focused on economic development with public and private clients. Prior to starting that business, he was the Economic Development Director in West Palm Beach, Florida, and before that in Gwinnett County.
“That is a well-oiled economic development machine up there. They’re doing everything right,” he said of Gwinnett.
Durham is currently in the process of meeting local elected officials and getting a feel for their visions for the county.
“At this point, I’m learning who the major players are down here so I’m kind of on a listening tour,” he said Monday. “That is one of my goals, communicating with city and county elected officials and staff, meeting with neighborhood groups if necessary to explain the whole process. Keeping our partners informed is paramount.”
Former President Matt Forshee left amidst some complaints from county officials, including Commission Chairman Steve Brown, that the Development Authority had not communicated well with local officials regarding the tax incentives given to Pinewood Studios Atlanta.
A main function of development authorities in Georgia is that they can provide tax abatement to attract businesses and corporations. As a semi-governmental entity, development authorities can facilitate these abatements, whereas local governments cannot.
In the case of Pinewood, the upshot for local coffers was that the studios would pay zero in property taxes and then, across a 20 year time frame, begin to pay an additional 5-percent of its property tax share each year up until year 20, in which it would be expected to pay the full bill.
County officials claimed that the details of this arrangement were not properly communicated to them, and that they were not even aware of them until after the deal was done. Legally, a development authority is not required to disclose these abatement plans with local government as they are being arranged.
Durham said he was still getting familiar with the circumstances of Pinewood’s tax abatement plan, but emphasized that tax abatement is “necessary” in the economic development field.
“Communities that don’t have the ability to offer tax abatement, they don’t get the new jobs,” Durham.
He said the decision whether or not to offer tax abatement, which typically goes to the largest corporations, is made based on hard numbers.
“The way I handle tax abatement is I look at three main things: number of jobs being created, the average salary of those employees, and the amount of capital investment the company is putting into the project,” Durham said. “My policy is if there’s not a net financial benefit to the county and cities, then they don’t get a tax abatement. The numbers are numbers. They’re black and white. They’re right or wrong. Whether it’s a good project or not depends on what those numbers tell us.”
He said the burgeoning film and television industry in Fayette County will attract small, supporting businesses which drive job growth.
“Seventy percent of the new jobs created in any community come from small businesses who are adding workers,” Durham said. “We’re certainly going to pay attention to those.”
He also said the Development Authority will “ramp up” its emphasis on supporting local entrepreneurship. There are also plans to develop a branding and marketing campaign to attract business and industry.
“We have beautiful cities here. Peachtree City is amazing. Downtown Fayetteville has done a lot attracting businesses here,” Durham said, “but people don’t know were down here. When people think of metro Atlanta they think Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb. Well, we’re here too. That’s going to be a big focus in branding and getting our story out.”