An Oasis of Recreation, Education and Business
by Sheena Louise Roetman
Hall County has experienced tremendous growth over the last12 years, gaining more than 40,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. And it's not hard to see why. Just an hour's drive or less from Atlanta, Hall County boasts a wealth of natural attractions, a top-notch health care system and a thriving business community.
One reason residents have flocked to this corner of Northeast Georgia is its affordability. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, the median home value in Hall County was $175,200 between 2006 and 2010. And a CBS Moneywatch study released last year ranked the Gainesville-Hall County area second among metro areas with the highest rates of home value appreciation, at 8.4 percent.
Another reason for the area's popularity is its appealing mix of small-town charm and modern amenities. That's especially true in Gainesville, the county seat since 1821. Its walkable, historic downtown is home to more than 50 small businesses, restaurants and shops, and regularly hosts festivals, art shows, farmer's markets and concerts. Its Northeast Georgia Medical Center, meanwhile, is nationally recognized for its cardiac care; the hospital was also named one of the top 100 in the country by Thomson Reuters in 2009.
In 2011, Gainesville was named one of the top 10 affordable places to retire by AARP Magazine, which made note of its inexpensive housing (average price: $141,800), 7 percent sales tax, and proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains and other natural attractions.
"We're surrounded by Lake Lanier," says Mayor Danny Dunagan. "We're in the foothills of the mountains, in close proximity to the airport and Atlanta. And the climate is outstanding. Gainesville is large enough to give you everything you want in terms of shopping, medicine, the arts, activities for children, yet still small enough to have that small-town feel."
Flowery Branch, another Hall County city on the shores of Lake Lanier, offers a similar experience. In the city's downtown district, buildings dating back to the late 1800s and an historic train depot coexist with charming shops and restaurants. The chewing-gum company Wrigley maintains a plant here, and the Atlanta Falcons' headquarters and training camp are based in the city as well.
Oakwood, home of Gainesville State College, and the town of Clermont are also located in Hall County. In addition, the county is home to parts of Braselton, Buford, and the communities of Gillsville and Lula.
Parks and Recreation
Lake Sidney Lanier, more commonly known as Lake Lanier, is one of Hall County's biggest draws. Created when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956, this 37,000-acre reservoir attracts more than 7.5 million people every year for boating, horseback riding, camping, hiking, zip-line courses and other recreational activities.
Many visitors head to the Lake Lanier Islands Resort, a 1,500-acre destination that offers golf, a spa and Lanier World, filled with restaurants, rides, a beach and a waterpark. Lake Lanier also hosts two of the largest freshwater marinas in the world: Holiday Marina in Buford and Aqualand Marina in Flowery Branch. Another attraction is Chateau Elan, a nationally known winery and resort that includes a spa, golf course, restaurants and homes.
The county is home to 70 parks, more than any other county in the United States, and boasts many recreational programs for kids and adults. The Francis Meadows Aquatic Center includes both indoor and outdoor pools, a children's spray area and splash pool, water slides and an indoor competitive pool. Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is a 2,500-acre park with hiking, horseback riding and biking trails, a wildlife garden, science center and other activities. And the Chattahoochee National Forest and Tallulah Gorge State Park are both within an hour's drive.
Education and Business
Hall County is home to two of Georgia's top school systems—the Hall County School System and the Gainesville charter school system—and six independent schools, most notably Riverside Military Academy, one of the only all-boys private military college preparatory schools left in the country.
The county is also home to Gainesville State College, Brenau University and Lanier Technical College. And it's only an hour west of the University of Georgia in Athens, as well as the many colleges and universities in metro Atlanta, including Georgia State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and Agnes Scott College. And all of those schools help attract many businesses looking for a well-educated workforce.
Asked to summarize the state of the economy in Hall County, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Dunlap says, "It's doing very well," driven by a strong manufacturing presence, with more than 300 companies turning out everything from textiles to automobiles to consumer goods. More than 45 Fortune 500 companies have a presence in the area as well.
In 2010-2011, more than 1,400 new jobs were created in the county, which enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
Dunlap points to several reasons for the county's strong business presence.
"Obviously, being an hour away from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is important," she says, noting that proximity to ports like Savannah and Charleston helps as well. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce works tirelessly to attract new business to the area, and maintains an existing-industry program attuned to the needs of the businesses it already has.
And residents looking to spend some of the money they make in Hall County aren't lacking for shopping options: Gainesville's Lakeshore Mall and the 225-store Mall of Georgia in Buford abound with choices. Nearby, the Tanger Outlets in Commerce and North Georgia Premium Outlet Mall in Dawsonville also offer a wealth of selection.
Combining a peaceful quality of life with a quality education and healthcare and a thriving business scene, Hall County offers a retreat from the hassles of big-city living without sacrificing any of the conveniences or amenities. Truly, there's something for everyone.
Hall County Government
Hall County Schools
Hall County Parks and Leisure
Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce
City of Gainesville
Gainesville City Schools
Gainesville State College
Lanier Technical College
City of Flowery Branch
Lake Lanier Islands Resort
Northeast Georgia Health System
Riverside Military Academy