Angela Reinhardt / Photo
Things are looking up for economy, local leaders believe. They are definitely aiming high at the recently relocated Get to the Pointe Dance Studio that opened this month.
After several years of stagnant growth, city and county leaders say they see a light at the end of the tunnel, citing a welcome economic uptick in 2015 they expect to gain momentum in 2016.
At a recent Family Connections meeting, Jasper Mayor Weaver said he believes the area is on the cusp of a growth wave that will “wash over us, wash over Blue Ridge and bounce back and wash over us again.” Weaver
said he believes growth will pick up again in 2016, much like it was before the real estate collapse in 2007.
At the December city council meeting, Sonny Underwood, city planning and development director, gave a report that covered the surge of business his department has fielded in the past year.
“The building and planning and development department has been busy with new construction, annexation and new business licenses,” Underwood said, citing 50 new business licenses issued in 2015.
Underwood said several construction projects have been completed in the past year including the largest, the Days Chevrolet building. Other completed projects include a retail strip beside Walmart that houses Hibbett Sports, Dollar Tree, Verizon Wireless and Royal Nails; a retail strip on Noah Drive that houses H&R Block and which has four other suites available; the Northside Hospital Imaging Center, Dairy Queen renovations, completion of the Hardee’s restaurant, and renovations at the large building at the corner of Main Street and Church Street (known locally as the old NAPA building). Another new building on Noah Drive houses Get to the Pointe Dance Studio.
“And Standridge Color Corporation is going to double the size of their operation and is adding another building with 22,000 square feet,” Underwood said.
Pickens County Economic Development Director Gerry Nechvatal pointed to industry growth at Quality Synthetic Rubber, and new businesses that have moved into Jasper Enterprise Center and the Sharp Mountain Industrial Park.
Construction of the new Boys & Girls Club of North Georgia is currently underway at Roper Park.
The city has also annexed three properties, including the Pickens County Airport and the Mountain Express BP convenience store and gas station on Highway 53 and Highway 515.
Pickens County Commission Chair Rob Jones said he is pleased to see an uptick in the local economy, going on to cite improved building activity in Big Canoe and increased water meters, up to 28 for the year.
“That’s more meters than we’ve had in three years,” Jones said. “And Big Canoe is going strong. I’m glad to see things picking up.”
New home building is the highest in the county since 2008. New home building permits peaked in 2004 at 418, then dropped to 244 in 2007 and plunged to 90 in 2008, followed by the dismal low of 27 in 2010. For 2015, new home permits are up to 63. Commercial building permits peaked in 2003 at 61, and reached a low of 2 in 2010. In 2015 through the end of November, commercial permits are at nine.
Total building permits, which also include remodels, mobile homes and renewals, peaked in 2006 at 910, then fell to its low, 284, also in 2010. This year through November, total permits are at 331.
Speaking at the city council meeting, the economic development director alluded to a few ongoing projects he cannot disclose at this time, but he echoed sentiments of other local leaders who feel positive about development here.
“Right now retail and commercial seem to be very active, especially for this time of year,” he said. “Some things are trending very positively. I think 2016 is going to be a very good year for the city of Jasper and Pickens County and I think everyone will be pleased with what they see occurring.”
A few projects that have yet to come to fruition are the much-anticipated Port Royal Water Park project and a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts at the site of the annexed convenience store near the corner of Highway 53 and Highway 515. See related article on Port Royal on Page 1A.
Business licenses in the county have not shown the same rebound as building permits. In 2011, licenses reached a recent peak with 129 new permits and 630 renewals issued, steadily declining to the 2015 figures - 74 new permits and 572 renewals.
Nechvatal has also stressed what he sees as the importance of ongoing efforts of the Downtown Alliance, an initiative of the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce. The group, which is comprised of downtown business owners and other stakeholders, has been charged with developing a plan to improve connectivity, aesthetics, and other elements of the downtown area to attract growth. The alliance recently requested and received funding from the city for a study of the downtown area by firm Kimley Horn, which will happen in 2016.
But do residents want significant economic growth here? Is it appropriate for the community? Many residents, for example, like the fact that JeepFest participants come to town to spend money once a year and leave.
At the Family Connections meeting, Mayor Weaver noted that the city has utilized time during the downturn to expand infrastructure. He also said the county’s lack of natural water resources could be either a “blessing or a curse,” and that the lack of water could limit growth, which could be positive or negative depending on how much growth is desired here. Weaver said growth might draw criticism from some residents who “wished he would blow the bridge across the Etowah to stop it.”