Fayette needs better marketing

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There is a lot of discussion around determining a future vision for Fayette County. The process of vision casting is not a bad idea, but we need to make sure the mode by which we cast is research-based and practical.

It is important to remember that Fayette County has a great foundation. Many other areas in metro Atlanta have serious issues with severe traffic and a list of rising negative indicators (North Fulton, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cobb, DeKalb), wishing they could have our quality of life statistics. But then again, there’s that nagging 2 percent growth in population and the Millennial drain.

One element that is pervasive in metropolitan Atlanta planning efforts is good old fashioned panic. Fear of failure can be a motivator, but it can also cause you to be irrational.

Let me invite you to contemplate whether Fayette County needs to change its recipe or do we just need to advertise we are selling delicious rewards that people want?

When people say we need to attract Millennials, I ask, “Which ones?” Seriously, there are a lot of Millennials who are unskilled, underemployed and unreliable. Do we want all of them to come?

Perhaps we need to go find the new citizens we desire and introduce ourselves. There is a multitude of young married and having children Millennials out there who want a quality place to raise a family.

Around 17 years ago, a guy named Jack Middleton moved a company named SMC3 from offices in midtown Atlanta to Peachtree City. President and CEO Middleton and SMC3 are significant innovators in the area of freight logistics technology. Just as important, Middleton is a community-minded individual with a strong desire to help the area through local charities.

A March 9 article in The Citizen on Middleton’s recent retirement exemplified what I believe is a major issue we need to pay attention to when discussing our county’s future.

When Middleton was looking for a new headquarters location, Fayette County was not even part of the search area. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was the furthest point south in their search. He was later persuaded by a real estate broker who knew Peachtree City to come down and take a look, prompting the family man who appreciated quality of life to move a corporate entity with a spectacular reputation as an industry innovator to our county.

The scenario of companies and talented individuals who do not know that Fayette County exists, causing them to settle in lesser quality of life areas, is a reoccurring problem that hampers our future. Consequently, one of our greatest weaknesses has always been a serious lack of promotional capability.

The northern suburbs have significantly more marketing prowess and self-assurance than we do. Look no further than the city of Alpharetta as a perfect example of a location distant from downtown Atlanta that literally created its own image.

Alpharetta has become known as a technology hub because they have willed it to be so. They have paid staff who go and market to the technology industries and they are excellent promoters of their image.

The hottest mixed-use development in 2015 was Avalon in Alpharetta which Phase I of the 86-acre site includes 500,000 square feet of retail, a 12-screen Regal Cinemas theater, 105,000 square foot of Class A office space over retail, 101 single-family residences and 250 luxury rental homes.

It was the best development in the southeastern United States because the developer, North American Properties Atlanta, said it was the best through probably one of the best advertising campaigns in metro Atlanta’s history.

Alpharetta and North American Properties Atlanta are not compromising anything. They are attracting the type of people they need to sustain a robust quality community.

Turn this around and look at the Beltline area of the city of Atlanta. The area was an eyesore, but then came the marketing vision. Linking the old deserted railroad tracks to make something out of the area took a great deal of vision and the low cost real estate and government incentives created an opportunity.

Again, North American Properties Atlanta moved in and began constructing mixed-use buildings (the five stories of residential on one floor of retail that is not legacy material) near the Beltline. It was the place to be because the city of Atlanta and North American Properties Atlanta created an extensive marketing campaign to tell you that’s where you needed to be, and it worked.

Now when all of those young adults who are smitten with the Beltline area begin having children, where are they going to go? They will more than likely look toward Alpharetta because that’s where the public relations and advertising forces are taking them.

If you have lived in Peachtree City over 12 years, chances are it was a Peachtree City Development Corporation (or later, Pathways) advertisement that piqued your interest. There was a day when we had a lot of private developer marketing coming out of our county.

See it again. Go to the April 5 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the Living section and see the front page article entitled “Trail mix and match” which is centered on health and fitness tied to areas that have great trail and path systems.

The AJC article was a “metro Atlanta” view of places people should think about. It included Sope Creek Trail (Marietta), Atlanta Beltline, Davidson-Arabia Trail (Lithonia), Sweetwater Yellow Trail, (Lithia Springs), James E. Edmond Trail (Mountain City) and 11-Mile Battlefield and Mountain Trail (Kennesaw).

The glaring omission of Peachtree City with the largest internal path system in the state, not to mention being the most unusual one of its kind, should wake us all up. Just like Mr. Middleton and SMC3, the focus of the article never went below the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

Our recipe is fantastic, but those on the outside simply do not know we have anything to sell.

[Commissioner Steve Brown represents District 3 (Peachtree City) on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.]