"The City of Decatur has evolved into a vibrant, small urban city." – Catherine Lee, City of Decatur, Downtown Development Manager Founded in 1823, even before the City of Atlant... read more
In June, the Greater Eastside Chamber of Commerce (GECC) announced that it had expanded its geographic reach and planned to implement a regional economic stimulus model to help small businesses across North Georgia. Initially serving the Gwinnett County cities of Snellville, Grayson and Loganville, the entity’s program now includes 10 additional cities across the four counties of Gwinnett, DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton, including Lithonia, Stonecrest, Covington and Conyers, among others. According to GECC president Derrick J. Wilson, the bold move is directly related to the overwhelming number of small startups serving the east, west and south communities of North Georgia that need support from a Chamber of Commerce to grow, scale and sustain their businesses.
It makes sense, as, for years, Georgia has been recognized as a hotbed of activity for small business startups, thanks in large part to the thriving business community found in Atlanta and its surrounding areas. In fact, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, metro Atlanta had the second highest number of new business applications per 1,000 residents in 2022. What’s more, in addition to the 31 Fortune 500 and 1000 companies found in metro Atlanta, more than 200 Inc. 5000 companies are headquartered across the area, which also is home to over 100 entrepreneurial centers. And while the City of Atlanta is central to the startup ecosystem, cities and towns across metro Atlanta also boast burgeoning small business environments. Here, we look at three metro cities in particular and their efforts to support and boost entrepreneurs and their visionary ventures.
Boasting small town charm with a big city vibe, Decatur is one of DeKalb’s most prominent locales. It’s lively downtown square has been recognized as one of USA Today’s “Top 10” public squares, and the city is located just a quick trip via MARTA from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. And according to Shirley Baylis, business development manager for the City of Decatur, Decatur also is known for its diverse mix of small businesses, from boutique clothing and gift shops to restaurants, cafes, art studios, health and wellness businesses and more.
“The City of Decatur offers several advantages for small business ventures. The city actively promotes economic development and works closely with businesses to facilitate growth,” Baylis notes. To start, the city offers support and guidance on obtaining the necessary permits, making it easier for entrepreneurs to navigate the process. Additionally, Decatur takes great measure to be a business-friendly city by encouraging new businesses to take advantage of the resources available through Decide DeKalb Development Authority, the Small Business Development Center and the DeKalb’s Workforce Development Center. What’s more, the city supports businesses with resources, programs, trainings and networking events through the Decatur Business Association. The Decatur Development Authorities (DDA) also help businesses with site selection, business planning and grant programs.
For instance, Baylis explains, “Through the Decatur Development Authorities, commercial property owners and local businesses of ground-floor shopfronts may apply for the Commercial Facade Improvement Grant program for renovations and repairs focused on improvements and beautification of storefronts and facades. The grants cover 75 percent of the cost of any approved project, with a minimum contribution from the DDA of $2,500 and a maximum of $10,000. Additionally, a limited number of $1,000 microgrants will be made available for simpler projects.” Projects under this scope include masonry repairs, storefront reconstruction, exterior painting, window and door repairs and more.
In addition to helping businesses that have chosen and are settling into Decatur, the city continually strives to attract even more businesses to the area. It does so in several ways. As Baylis states, “The City of Decatur continues to enhance a business friendly environment by simplifying our permitting and licensing procedures, offering guidance and support and ensuring timely communication. Second, the city recognizes that community engagement plays a vital role in small business success through campaigns to encourage community members to support and shop locally. Examples include participation in the annual Small Business Saturday event and local holiday events that showcase small businesses. Third, the city, its the DDA and the Business Association partner with the Decatur Tourism Bureau to create marketing materials with a broader reach that boasts Decatur’s small businesses to visitors. With our focus on support, resources, collaboration and engagement, Decatur seeks to attract and retain a diverse range of small businesses.”
With its close proximity to the City of Atlanta, Decatur is poised to become nationally known as one of the metro area’s best destinations for small businesses. As Baylis concludes, “The City of Decatur is dedicated to supporting small businesses and fostering a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that is committed to being business friendly, providing access and direction to resources, maintaining a collaborative ecosystem, encouraging community engagement and being flexible and adaptable to the continued changes in the world of small business.”
In recent years, Peachtree Corners has grown from a small rural community into a burgeoning, bustling city that’s home to more than 45,000 residents and a thriving business community, which includes some of the world’s most disruptive technology companies, as well as a host of unique small businesses. “There are several organic grocery stores of a specialty nature, as well as large grocery store chains and home stores, both large and small,” describes Jennifer Howard, economic development manager for Peachtree Corners. “The Forum shopping plaza is under redevelopment by North American Properties, and a food hall concept was just announced. We have a thriving brewery, a growler shop and the essential services that a city needs, such as dry cleaners and hair salons. We have many small businesses and entrepreneurs in the tech sector. We are fortunate to have a startup incubator as well as an accelerator for local businesses.”
Peachtree Corners’ pro-business environment actually begins with its zero millage rate, which allows businesses to take advantage of being in the city and have access to city services and an economic development office without having to pay a separate city tax. The city also has several organizations in place to offer support, services and networking opportunities to new and growing small businesses, including the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Peachtree Corners Business Association. Furthermore, Howard says, “We have had a business retention and expansion program for quite some time, but we are looking to ramp it up. As far as attraction, we developed a Town Center, which has been pivotal in attracting small businesses. It has created a ripple effect and likely led to the redevelopment of the Forum shopping center. The city will soon begin focusing on the Holcomb Bridge Road corridor and Peachtree Corners Circle, where some investment is needed.”
Fortunately, the city already has one attraction in place that has helped develop it reputation as a destination for startups: the Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners. This 5G-enabled living laboratory for startups and established companies allows them to deploy and test developing technologies in a real-world testing environment. It is part of a unique public-private partnership and features a complete smart city infrastructure; it also is the only locale in the world with a publicly funded three-mile-long autonomous vehicle testing track on an actual city street. Howard observes, “With the Curiosity Lab and its partners, as well as the relationships we have developed in the real estate and banking sectors, there is a network of support available for those looking to launch, especially those in technology and bioscience.”
In fact, over the years, Peachtree Corners has received national and international recognition for its dedication to being a pioneering technology hub—an effort that has created more than 45,000 jobs for residents throughout the city and across the area. It’s an impressive feat for a city that formed just over a decade ago and has become one of the best places in metro Atlanta not only to start and manage a small business, but also to make global connections in a wide array of flourishing industries.
Located northwest of Atlanta, Marietta is a lively community with a vibrant history. The heart of the downtown area is Marietta Square, which is home to a wide variety of much-loved small businesses, from quaint shops and excellent eateries to theaters and more. “The City of Marietta is home to a diverse blend of small businesses that contribute to our robust business climate,” explains Rachel Langelotti, economic development project manager for the City of Marietta. “In fact, the overwhelming majority of businesses within our city are small businesses, emanating from our town square and reaching throughout the city. From downtown retail boutiques to specialty food manufacturers to locally owned restaurants to independent professional services, Marietta’s small business landscape provides high-quality products and services that enhance our community while serving far beyond its borders.”
To continue to bring small businesses into this well-established community and help them grow, the City of Marietta’s Office of Economic Development provides direct support to new, existing and prospective business owners through partnerships with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, the Marietta Business Association and WorkSource Cobb, all of which give small businesses access to a network of local resources and agencies that serve their individual efforts and needs. The specialized attention small businesses receive in Marietta include help identifying incentives, low-cost financing and other cost-saving programs that a company may uniquely benefit from receiving, among other services. As Langelotti notes, “Not only do our businesses receive a welcoming reception from the city government, but our community also embraces and supports them like no other. Companies can depend on Marietta’s pro-business climate, a healthy and diverse local economy, accessibility to an educated workforce and reliable infrastructure. These factors, in combination with a high-quality of life, foster an environment that facilitates growth and overall success for our businesses.”
For Marietta, the goal is to provide a streamlined process for both opening and operating a small business within the city. And that starts at the local government level. “We strive to take the mystery out of doing business in the city by being an accessible government, readily available to serve,” Langelotti says. “We want to keep the ease of doing business within our city just that: easy. The city also provides business support services through its Office of Economic Development, such as site selection assistance, guidance through the city’s efficient business opening processes and connecting businesses to local resources. Our team of professionals are always eager to help potential and existing small businesses in their pursuit of operating a successful venture. We aim to ensure that Marietta continues to be the city businesses choose to call home.”
With its location in the heart of Cobb County and so close to the City of Atlanta, Marietta truly is ideally situated to provide small businesses with everything they need from a logistical and infrastructure standpoint. And with so many incentives and opportunities available, Marietta has become a go-to spot for startups, shops and all kinds of small businesses. That, in turn, attracts residents and visitors alike. It’s a reciprocal relationship in which everyone wins. Langelotti concludes, “The City of Marietta is dedicated to attracting and supporting growth of businesses that contribute to a high-quality of life that is authentic and experiential for our community members. Our small businesses are a core part of our community in providing local jobs, revenue, products and services. In return, the community really takes pride in supporting our local small businesses as clients and neighbors.”