DeKalb Chamber sees challenges, opportunities
Ken Watts | 10/18/2013, 6 a.m.
After 75 years on the job, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce is still hopeful about the county’s future.
In 1938 when it started, the county was populated by dairy farms and more cows than people. Today, DeKalb is an urban county with a population of more than 706,000 grappling with the effects of foreclosures, political corruption, and economic growth.
Despite these issues, the chamber says the county’s future is bright, many established companies are expanding, and the county can still be a destination for major employers relocating to the metro Atlanta.
Leonardo McClarty, the chamber’s president for nine years, said the county has a lot to offer.
“The biggest thing is access to domestic and international markets by way of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport,” he said, adding that the county’s interstate system provides quick routes to the airport and most anywhere else in the metro area and helped attract the likes of Elekta Inc., a global biomedical giant that opened its North American office near Perimeter Mall in 2012.
“They brought 200 to 300 jobs with room for expansion over the next several years,” McClarty said. “And there was a $15 million expansion last year at the UPS facility at Pleasantdale Road.”
McClarty also pointed to the county’s sizable base of well-educated workers and a renowned higher education community, including Emory University, Oglethorpe, Mercer, Agnes Scott College, Georgia Perimeter College, Georgia Piedmont Technical College, Devry University and Columbia Theological Seminary.
During its 75th anniversary gala on Oct. 5 at the Evergreen Conference Center in Stone Mountain Park, chamber leaders celebrated the strides the chamber has made. They pointed out that it had a hand in most all of the good things that have happened in the county, including the establishment of DeKalb Technical College, DeKalb Medical, and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
The black-tie gala, attended by 350 business leaders and county elected officials, honored organizations and individuals who helped grow the county and the chamber with awards named for the late DeKalb banker James E. Young.
The Heritage Awards went to Epps Aviation and Persian rug retailer Sharian Inc., who have been members of the chamber since 1965 and 1961 respectively.
DeKalb Medical and former DeKalb CEO Liane Levetan were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards for service to the community.
Arnie Silverman, the chamber’s board chairman, praised its contributions in the county’s growth.
“We benefited from having leaders in business, the professions, education and politics who were willing to be active in chamber projects and connect with the community they served,” he said.
Silverman said county and city boundaries don’t matter as much to new employers in the area.
“They want to be part of the Atlanta region so they come to DeKalb County to find a home,” he said, adding that several deals are in the works to bring international companies to industrial parks around Stone Mountain.
Silverman, CEO of Silverman Construction, one of DeKalb’s large construction firms, said the chamber doesn’t take sides in the cityhood debate because the corporations it is trying to attract aren’t confined by geographic boundaries and the benefits of commerce circulate throughout the metro Atlanta area.