Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, but what direction we are moving….we must sail, sometimes with the wind, sometimes against it, but we must sail and not drift nor lie at anchor.
On Dec. 1, 2018, Dunwoody celebrated its tenth birthday. Much has happened in those ten years, in fact, the world has changed. Technology has changed virtually every aspect of how we live our lives – from the way we shop to the way we receive our medical care. It may be time to rethink our city – to evaluate what is working and what is not working – to evaluate what we have done right and what we should have done differently.
Over the past ten years one thing has remained constant – our city tax rate has never changed. It has remained at 2.74 mils, the lowest rate in metropolitan Atlanta. Our streets continue to be paved and sidewalks continue to be built and our city today is more connected than ever before.
We are blessed to have a large and growing business district – Perimeter Center. This was a major factor in why we were able to become a city. In 2009, 73 percent of the taxes paid came from our thriving businesses. Only 27 percent came from our citizens. Today, according to Chris Pike, the Chief Financial Officer for the city, the business tax percent paid has grown, principally because the homeowner assessment has been frozen, thanks to the efforts of our former state Sen. Fran Millar. Despite this our revenues have grown, thanks to a growing business community. State Farm moved its regional headquarters to Dunwoody and brought with it thousands of jobs that continue to grow as the company consolidates offices located in Alpharetta and other cities to the growing campus on Hammond Drive.
When the city was formed, I had the honor of serving on the first city council. As a venture capitalist and being instrumental in starting over thirty companies, economic development in Dunwoody became my major focus. Other new cities (Sandy Springs and Johns Creek) had focused on other aspects of providing community services, but had ignored economic development. We knew at that early time that if we were to continue to have low taxes that it was important for our city to make economic development a priority. We were the first new city to form an economic development department and hire a Director – Michael Starling (who is still doing a great job nine years later).
Working with Michael, we developed an economic development plan that included addressing three areas: 1) We will retain the business we have; 2) We will work to attract new businesses to our city; and, 3) We will promote an environment where entrepreneurs can succeed. To date we have fulfilled two of these goals – but not the third.
Today our city should have a New Business Incubator. Despite having written a business plan (working in partnership with the Georgia Tech Incubator) and finding a seasoned entrepreneur to head up the incubator in 2012, the mayor at that time did not support it and the plan died for lack of funding. It should be stated that our neighboring city, Peachtree Corners, picked up on this idea, started an incubator and recently received a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Commerce to expand their operation. Peachtree Corners is becoming a hotbed of new entrepreneurial driven companies. We must seize these opportunities when they are presented.
Next week in part II, I will address several concerns that I have and some other opportunities that we have missed over the past ten years. I will also address a missing component in our government: Vision.