By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read October 2020 —Dekalb County is open for business and working to help small businesses not only survive but thrive, especially among the underserved area of minority-owned businesses. Dorian Debar, interim president of Decide DeKalb, walks Focus: Atlanta through the main components of its economic growth strategy for the county.
How is your organization working with academia and the private sector on workforce development?
We have all hands on deck when it comes to working with academia and the private sector on workforce development. This area is extremely important in recruiting and retaining businesses. We have a three-pronged strategy for this area. First, we have forged a very close relationship with WorkSource DeKalb, which facilitates employer-driven workforce solutions on the county’s behalf. This team covers workforce efforts for young adults entering the workforce to more advanced, seasoned workers. Second, we work closely with Georgia Piedmont Technical College, which provides a broad range of robust training programs such as electrical and computer engineering technology, healthcare services and electronics technology. Third, in late 2019, we created a position to focus on workforce development and to maintain a close relationship with all of our workforce development stakeholders.
How would you characterize your brownfields initiative?
We were awarded EPA’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund (BRLF) grant in 2012 to provide affordable working capital, whether through a loan, or as a grant to eligible nonprofits, to sites typically undevelopable because they present some form of contamination. We ensure financial resources are used to turn these sites into prime developable areas. The first site to benefit from our program was the Doraville Assembly project. We provided the former General Motors assembly plant $500,000 to clean and remediate the site. The East Decatur Greenway project was another success story. This former gas station was vacant for decades until work helped turn it into a passive park for the local community. Additionally, Pullman Yard, a former rail yard located in the Kirkwood neighborhood, is being supported for soil remediation. The $800,000 in funding will help turn this area into a mixed-use site with retail, office, housing and entertainment uses.
How have Decide DeKalb’s affordable housing efforts materialized?
We have made significant progress in our housing efforts. In 2019, we took a hard look at our internal policies to incentivize and promote workforce and affordable housing in DeKalb County. We formed a committee made up of affordable housing developers and advocates to look at our policies and the landscape to strengthen our role. We came back with a well-rounded policy based on this feedback, which increases the level of affordability for the projects that we incentivize and ensures we have one of the most robust affordable housing policies offered by any development authority in Georgia.
What recent developments from the DeKalb Entertainment Commission would you highlight?
Blackhall Studios’ CEO Ryan Millsap proved a visionary for locating his studio HQ in DeKalb County. It is one of the largest sound stages in metro Atlanta. It has been a significant entertainment driver for the county. There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has put a tremendous strain on the entertainment industry. However, as things begin to slowly open back up, we are very confident 2021 will be a stellar year with productions taking place all over DeKalb County.
How is Decide DeKalb working to support small businesses?
Although our organization did not play a significant role in funding small businesses before COVID-19, once the pandemic hit, we stepped up to cater to the need for funding and providing the capital needed for these businesses to survive. An important focus for us was tending to minority and women-owned businesses in underserved communities. We started to raise capital to launch a small business loan fund with the aid of United Way and Advance DeKalb. The county also launched its own business loan program for businesses not eligible for PPP loans. Decide DeKalb is providing technical assistance for applicants to this loan fund. Going forward, we will continue to support small businesses through lending and affordable capital. We want to see these businesses stay in DeKalb and grow in DeKalb.
What new business opportunities has Decide DeKalb unveiled?
We recently announced the landing of Home Depot in the city of Stonecrest. It is going to open a logistics facility that is part of an overall $1 billion investment in metro Atlanta. Second, Zillow Group decided to open its Southeastern hub in DeKalb County in the city of Dunwoody. Tucker is the new home to the Shular Institute, a culinary arts school and restaurant opening next winter. Finally, Sugar Bowl Bakery, based in the Bay Area, announced the opening of its second location in the city of Tucker. These additions are all testaments to DeKalb’s young and talented workforce and welcoming business community.
What are Decide DeKalb’s priorities for 2021?
We are on a pathway of prosperity and growth in DeKalb County and we are staying the course. As an economic developer, it is of the utmost importance to bring all organizations and stakeholders together to continue moving under common accord. We will continue to build on workforce development efforts and infrastructure development, as well as enhancing redevelopment initiatives and small business outreach. The opportunities throughout the county are vast. Decide DeKalb looks forward to redeveloping, repurposing and reinvigorating underutilized assets in the county to bring about positive change.
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