Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read July 2021 — Robb Pitts, Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, talked to Invest: about the extraordinary measures the government took to guide the community through the COVID pandemic. He also touches on the efforts made to help small businesses, renters and homeowners through the crisis. “Fulton County has always been a leader and we led the pack in fighting the virus with innovative solutions,” he said.
What were the greatest takeaways from dealing with the pandemic in Fulton County?
I don’t think anyone, anywhere escaped the pandemic. In fact, during that whole time, I was out of my office only for two days. I was here, along with the county manager, county attorney, CFO and a couple of others. I felt that, as the face of the county, it was my duty to be here in case something out of the ordinary happened, and, of course, things out of the ordinary did happen. The pandemic took over our lives and changed how we did everything. We did the best we could. Fulton County has always been a leader and we led the pack in fighting the virus with innovative solutions. We had world-class testing sites that served the metro area. We comprise about 10% of the population of the state of Georgia but we were responsible for about 25% of the testing. Fast forward to vaccines, and the numbers are pretty much the same. We also pioneered the mass vaccination site concept.
How have you helped small-business owners through this crisis?
We received federal aid, just as other localities did. We first used CARES money, getting in excess of $105 million. We were very proactive and creative in how we used it. We had programs to provide food to kids and seniors. We also worked with several restaurants, as that was a hard-hit industry. We had a robust small-business loan program, where we identified the businesses and set up either loans or grants. We also helped artists and musical groups. These people, after all, are business people, just not in the traditional sense.
How would characterize the growth happening outside the Atlanta metro area?
All you have to do is look around – it’s just amazing to me how many cranes you see. The real estate market is on fire here with people moving in from all over. We’ve been blessed to have room for expansion north, south, east or west. We don’t have any mountain ranges or bodies of water that limit us. We can go for many miles in any direction. We also have the huge economic engine of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta – the busiest, biggest and best in the world. All of these facts encourage a huge amount of growth outside the Atlanta metro area.
What measures have you taken to maintain affordable housing?
Most of Fulton County is incorporated, which means that issues surrounding affordable housing are under the purview of cities. That said, we do our part to assist. Most of our work is in the infrastructure area. We do have a Fulton County Housing Authority through which we try to get involved in public and affordable housing but it’s not one of the things we’re responsible for. We know through our efforts, and whatever resources we have, that we should assist cities because as incomes and prices continue to grow, you begin to price a certain segment of the community out of their traditional areas. We are putting as much as we can into affordable housing. Not unlike other places around the country, we have a lot of people who lost their jobs due to COVID. They’re unable to pay their rent, mortgage or utilities. We are, therefore, using a huge percentage of the money that we are getting from the American Rescue Plan for rental and mortgage assistance.
What is Fulton County’s impact on the region?
In Fulton County, we continue to expand our impact on the region. We have a great workforce development department that ensures that our residents have access to training in programs that get them employed. One thing that I’m particularly excited and proud about is the new Fulton Technology and Energy Enhancement Authority. It’s a public-private partnership that is designed to train residents of our deprived areas. Its goal is to teach cutting-edge technology and green energy skills. I’m on the board and I’m very excited to see where it goes.
What is your outlook for the next 12 to 18 months?
Our immediate goal is to get as many people in Fulton County vaccinated as possible. We are aiming to have at least 70% of our residents receive at least one shot by August. The vaccine works and this is of the utmost importance. We also want to encourage Black and brown people to get the vaccine. That segment of our community needs to know that it’s safe, effective, and free – it saves lives. I’m personally invested in this.
For more information, visit: https://www.fultoncountyga.gov/commissioners