Remarks by Chamber Chairman Benny Bagwell at the Greater Hall Chamber Annual Meeting & Gala

During the last quarter of 2000, our country started sliding into a recession. Then, in less than eight months of a new president being in office, our country experienced the worst terrorist attack in our history, on our home soil. Everyone remembers September 11, 2001. War then followed.

The fallout from these events have been far reaching, particularly to our economy. During this same time period, large companies that appeared strong cornerstones of this nation’s economy were exposed as “overstating profits,” therefore sending them into bankruptcy.

Here, in Gainesville-Hall County, we were not immune. Our businesses and citizens felt negative effects, too. For two years ¬ 2002 and 2003 ¬ we saw eight manufacturing plants close and the loss of over 700 jobs. And, we could still see more. Sales tax dollars decreased. The number of prospects looking for new company sites dropped, and businesses put things on hold. Yet, Hall County with its diverse economy was better off than most communities.

The good news today is that the economy has started a strong rebound and those lost jobs have been absorbed by new industry jobs and existing industry expansions. Some of these companies are still hiring. New small businesses are popping-up everywhere, weekly. Our unemployment is below 3% and below the state and national averages.

We, the business community and the partnerships with government, are positioned to move this community forward. Just a few days ago, your Chamber and hundreds of volunteers displayed what this community is all about by hosting the 2004 Red Carpet Tour ¬ Georgia¹s most successful economical development initiative. Now we must make this endeavor a complete success and land new business for our community.

Your Chamber continues to focus on our economy by finding ways to grow our tax base and provide new high paying jobs. However, sometimes it seems as if our community has become complacent with issues that impact us on a local level. It is not just the business community that doesn¹t want to be involved, it is a large part of our county citizenry.

In order for this community to remain successful and enhance our quality of life, I believe we must do the following 10 things:

1. Determine what we want to look like in the next 5-10-20 years. Start long range planning. Get solid input from all citizens and groups. Don¹t have pre-conceived agendas.

2. Further develop our leadership programs ¬ Leadership Hall County is a good start.

3. Get the current leadership in our community working together ¬ business, government, education, farmers, individuals. Share a common vision.

4. Build on relationships that foster trust between the business community and the elected officials.

5. Integrate all cultures into our community.

6. Retool and prepare our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow by thinking out-of-the-box. Build on our educational system¹s foundation and collaborate on new ideas such as the new Lanier Career Academy that will open this summer.

7. Be proactive and provide necessary infrastructure to support the needs of new businesses looking to locate here (roads, water, wastewater systems industrial and business parks, small business incubators).

8. Continue our strong relationships with statewide organizations that are assisting us in attracting new businesses to our community.

9. Continue to support local and statewide tourism opportunities.

10. Support the Gainesville/ Hall County Economic Development Council’s new retail initiative.

As I turn over the gavel to a new Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Chairman, my challenge to you is to step-up and get involved. Make your business voice be heard. I urge each of you to speak out on the issues that matter to you, get behind your Chamber and give your full support to the new 2004-2005 Officers and Board.

This is a great community. Let’s keep it this way and make it even better. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to serve you.