Market Street was hired by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce in June to complete the first part of a four-phase economic development program named Cobb’s Competitive EDGE. The Cobb Chamber developed the six-month development program to assess the county’s strengths and weaknesses, to target the top industries Cobb needs to focus on to attract and retain jobs and companies, to develop a strategy with goals and action steps needed to make the county more competitive, and to find ways to implement that strategy.
The Cobb Chamber paid Market Street around $200,000 of non-taxpayer money to manage the program and results from the information-gathering phase have been compiled into a 100-page analysis that sums up the opinions garnered from Market Street officials’ one-on-one interviews with major public figures, such as former Gov. Roy Barnes and Attorney General Sam Olens; focus groups with demographics, such as young professionals; a public survey and data collection through mostly public sources.
One trend identified in the analysis is that from 2004 to 2009, Cobb saw nearly three times more legal international migration into the county than migration from other parts of the state and the U.S. At the same time, Cobb has seen more people move out of the county than have moved into Cobb. The analysis shows that between 2006 and 2008, Cobb lost a net of 18,828 residents to Paulding, Cherokee, Douglas, Bartow and Forsyth counties.
Demming Bass, the Cobb Chamber’s chief operating officer, credited much of that movement to residents’ ability during those years to get bigger homes at more affordable prices in those counties than in Cobb; but with housing prices now the lowest they’ve been in over a decade, Bass said he expects to see more people moving back into Cobb.
The analysis also shows that Cobb has a huge advantage with its large population of young professionals. Market Street CEO and founder Mac Holladay said this was a great asset for the county, as it creates a pipeline of workers to supplement retiring baby boomers. The analysis concluded that as of 2010, 30.5 percent of Cobb’s population was between the ages of 25 and 44 — over 4 percentage points more than those between the ages of 45 and 64, which made up 26 percent of Cobb’s population.
“Many communities have a much larger sector of adult workers than in the 25-to-44 age group. That causes a serious sustainability workforce issue,” said Matt Tarleton, Market Street project manager.
But even though the young population is high, the study concluded that between 2000 and 2010, Cobb experienced a loss in young professionals while many metro Atlanta communities, including Gwinnett County, actually experienced a gain. Tarleton said public input credited the population loss to the relative lack of entertainment, dining and nightlife options for young professionals, as well as concerns about traffic.
Cobb has also seen a loss in job growth, as the recession wiped out all job growth since 1998. And although the county experienced the sharpest decrease in jobs from December 2007 to June 2009 with 7.9 percent, the county still saw a decrease of 3.2 percent from June 2009 to December 2010, while many other counties were able to stay above zero.
Another trend revealed in the study is that many more people are becoming very rich and very poor in Cobb, while the middle class is shrinking. From 2000 to 2009, Cobb experienced a 26 percent growth in households with incomes totaling less than $25,000, and a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of households making more than $100,000.
Holladay said the opinions gathered during the research process showed that most residents felt that Cobb’s school systems and higher education institutions were very strong and needed to be marketed more and that many enjoyed the low cost of living Cobb offers in comparison with nearby counties. But many were also concerned with increasing traffic and limited transit alternatives as they look to future population growth.
The next step, the development of the county’s target industry clusters, will be revealed to county leaders on Sept. 22 by Market Street officials at Life University.