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Film industry, improved transportation top area development agenda

The Ga. International Convention Center was overflowing on Feb. 20 as representatives from the region made their way to College Park for the 2013 South Metro Development Outlook conference. Among the speakers from across south metro Atlanta were Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown and Fayette County Development Authority CEO Matt Forshee.

Brown in the session on new regional leadership served on the panel with Henry County Commission Chairman Tommy Smith and Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner.

“Quality of life is what we sell,” Brown said, noting Fayette’s need to maintain a rural feel while drawing on its top-notch school system and its human capital.

Speaking from the broader perspective where Fayette is one of several counties in south metro Atlanta, Brown said, “We are all in this together. We’re very much into working with our colleagues and we are blending racial components.” He said a greater minority representation on various boards and authorities is an area that has been corrected.

In terms of geography, Brown noted Fayette’s lack of contiguous access to an interstate highway and the importance of keeping transportation channels open between the counties. Fayette’s access to Interstate 85 comes by way of Ga. Highway 74 in Fairburn and by Ga. Highway 138 in Union City.

Emphasizing the need for effective transportation avenues to other portions of metro Atlanta, Brown said one of the first questions posed by film industry representatives dealt with the time it would take to travel from Fayette County to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

“We can attract business, but we must work with our neighbors,” Brown said, referencing the planned project at Hwy. 74 and I-85. He then noted the relationship that exists between the airport and south metro counties. “I think we’ll see more development around the airport. Fayette will continue to provide housing for some of that development and we need to work as a team to bring business to south metro.”

Forshee in the film industry section of the conference noted the changes soon to be evident in Fayette County as he announced the entry of a major studio and film school on Sandy Creek Road north of Ga. Highway 54 just outside Fayetteville.

Though the project that involves British-based Pinewood Studios is only at its inception, Forshee said the presence of the studio and the other affiliated businesses that could accompany it might amount to $1 billion in economic impact with up to 12,000 people employed across the region over the next 15 years.

The studio project, unveiled recently as Project Stargate, would have the first phase of the film studio situated on 288 acres along Sandy Creek Road and adjacent to Rivers Elementary School that is currently in talks for possible sale. The Project Stargate acreage, along with other large tracts, could be annexed into Fayetteville later this year so that sewer service could be provided.

Mercer University economist Roger Tutterow in commenting on the 2013 economic forecast at the outset of the conference said consumer sentiment is coming back, adding that the numbers have been rising since last year. The local economy is not contracting regardless of the headlines, Tutterow added.

“The leading economic indicators are up over 1 percent in the last six months,” Tutterow said of the regional economy, noting that Georgia is growing roughly in line with the rest of the nation. “There’s nothing to suggest that the economy will contract. It should be late 2014 at the earliest, or in 2015, when Atlanta gets back to where it was before the Great Recession.”

The risk, said Tutterow, is if the price of gasoline continues to rise and causes a pull-back in discretionary spending.

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