DeKalb city officials talk workforce development, transportation during city summitAvondale Estates City Manager Patrick Bryant, Tucker Deputy City Manager John McHenry, Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett and Chamblee Assistant City Manager Mercy Montgomery participated in the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce's city summit on Aug. 9, 2023, at the Marriott Conference Center in downtown Decatur. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Decatur, GA — The DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce held its second city summit on Wednesday, Aug. 9, with several local mayors and city officials present to discuss topics such as workforce development, transportation, and affordable housing.
The event featured a keynote address from Jay Gipson, managing partner of the Gipson Company, which is developing the Assembly project in Doraville. The morning featured panel discussions with the mayors of Brookhaven, Decatur, Doraville, Dunwoody, and Stonecrest, as well as the Avondale Estates city manager, the assistant city manager of Chamblee, and Tucker’s deputy city manager.
During the panel discussion on workforce development and small businesses, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett, Stonecrest Mayor Jazzmin Cobble, Chamblee Assistant City Manager Mercy Montgomery, and Tucker Deputy City Manager John McHenry discussed the industries that are vital to their cities, how the cities are either attracting new businesses and what challenges they are facing in improving workforce capabilities.
Montgomery said the city of Chamblee did a housing study last year and the city is working on an affordable housing strategy. She added that affordable housing and economic development go hand-in-hand. The housing study included information on Chamblee’s workforce.
“We know our top five industries fall in retail trade, government – we’ve got IRS buildings and the CDC in Chamblee – professional, scientific and technical services, healthcare and social assistance, and information,” Montgomery said.
One of the areas Chamblee anticipates will continue to grow is the aerospace industry, as the city is home to the Peachtree-DeKalb Airport.
McHenry said the city of Tucker is focused on its small businesses. The city recently held a small business resource expo that was well attended, he said.
“We’re working very closely with WorkSource DeKalb, and with our partners at Decide DeKalb. We want to make sure that we’re setting the table for folks,” McHenry said.
In Decatur, the city has struggled to recruit municipal employees and restaurants were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants make up over half of Decatur’s downtown retail options, Garrett said.
The city has various health-centered businesses, like the Task Force for Global Health and the Emory School of Nursing. Workforce housing is also a challenge in Decatur.
“We’re thrilled to have those businesses in bringing more people and activity, but we know that providing housing for people who work in our downtown area or work in our other nodes of retail and restaurants in Decatur is a challenge,” Garrett said. “We’re partnering with the Decatur Housing Authority for some affordable housing at the Legacy Park property that the city of Decatur bought five or six years ago.”
She added that the city commission recently updated the unified development ordinance to reallow duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in single-family zoning areas.
“I think one of our biggest challenges is trying to provide some housing as well as opportunities for people who want to live, work and play in the city of Decatur,” Garrett said
The city of Stonecrest is working to overcome workforce challenges related to opportunity, exposure, training, and access to capital, Cobble said. Stonecrest has two industrial parks and logistics is a major industry for the city.
“As we move our economic development plans forward, and we begin to peel back the layers of how to achieve the goals in the plan, certainly workforce development is at the top of that list,” she said.
The panel discussion on transportation and traffic included Avondale Estates City Manager Patrick Bryant, Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch, Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman, and Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst. The mayors discussed a variety of transportation and traffic issues, including express lane transit, public transportation, and transportation projects.
Several cities and community improvement districts have been working to improve transit across the top end of the county, and Ernst has spearheaded the discussion about express lane transit.
“We had all the mayors along the top end come together and say hey, we need to figure out transit,” Ernst said. “We came up with a rapid transit system that would use the managed lanes that are being built by GDOT already to provide a rapid transit option.”
He added that this wouldn’t be a bus, it would have the look and feel of a tram.
“We figured out we could probably build that for about one-tenth of the cost of light rail,” Ernst said. “Not only can we do that along the top end, it also begins the linchpin to having transit all throughout DeKalb County, going down 285 to connect down to Stonecrest…and creating an entire system in which we can move people very, very quickly.”
In terms of public transportation, Avondale Estates sits between the Avondale and Kensington MARTA stations. Avondale Estates City Manager Patrick Bryant said the stations drive the growth of the city.
“People want to live next to MARTA stations because MARTA stations allow them to travel more freely, more easily,” Bryant said. “Luckily, because of the fact that our downtown is ripe for redevelopment, we have the opportunity to engineer supply to meet that demand.”
The city now has two mixed-use multifamily developments near the Avondale MARTA station.
“We have another developer who is in the permitting process for a senior affordable housing development in the same general area because of its proximity to the Avondale MARTA station,” Bryant said. “The county is moving forward with massive housing developments at the Kensington station, which will also serve to boost Avondale Estates’ economy because more people will be in the area.”
Avondale Estates is also about to embark on the U.S. Highway 278 complete street project, which will reduce the lanes from five to three lanes. The street will become a multimodal, walkable, likable, and landscaped streetscape main street.
“That’s all because we are uniquely situated between two MARTA stations,” Bryant said. “We are very much embracing transit-oriented development. We are planning the growth of our city around transit-oriented development, and we can’t wait for the future.”
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