Living the Good Life in Northeast Georgia
By Sheena Louise Roetman
Located just about an hour’s drive from Atlanta lies Hall County, thethriving hub of Georgia’s northeast region. The county’s population has grown 40 percent since 1990, making it one of the state’s undisputed hot spots. With a wealth of natural and cultural attractions, top-notch education and healthcare systems and a thriving business community, it’s easy to see why the Gainesville-Hall County area is among the top 50 fastest-growing metros in the United States.
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 is $240,990; values have increased 8.2 percent over the past year and are predicted to rise approximately 3.8 percent over the next, one of the highest appreciation rates in the state.
Another reason for the area’s popularity is its appealing mix of small-town charm and modern amenities. That’s especially true in Gainesville, whose 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. It has been ranked first in the state for heart, pulmonary and women’s care, and in the top 10 percent nationally for stroke, cancer, pneumonia and surgical care by the independent healthcare rating system CareChex.
Gainesville is consistently ranked by travel and consumer publications as one of the nation’s best and most affordable places to retire. The town has been named one of the country’s top 10 affordable places to retire by AARP Magazine, which made note of its inexpensive housing, 7 percent sales tax rate, and proximity to numerous 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 Wrigley chewing gum company maintains a plant here, and the Atlanta Falcons’ headquarters and training camp are based in the city as well.
Oakwood, home of University of North Georgia - Gainesville Campus, 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.
An Active and Varied Lifestyle
Lake Sidney Lanier, more commonly known as Lake Lanier, is one of Hall County’s biggest recreational draws. This 38,000-acre reservoir attracts more than 10 million people every year for boating, horseback riding, camping, zip-line courses and more.
Many visitors head to Lake Lanier Islands Resort, a 1,500-acre destination that offers golf, hiking, camping, a spa and the LanierWorld water and adventure park. The lake is also home to two of the largest freshwater marinas in the world: Holiday Marina in Buford and Aqualand Marina in Flowery Branch. Another unique attraction is Chateau Élan, a nationally known winery and resort that includes a spa, golf course, restaurants and a gate residential community, Chateau Elan Estates.
The county is home to 25 parks with award-winning recreational programs for children and adults, including tennis, soccer, baseball and softball. For water sports, there’s the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, while the 2500-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve provides hiking, horseback riding and biking trails, a wildlife garden, science center and other activities. Golfers have their choice of several public and private championship courses.
The area also boasts an active cultural life, with performances by the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra, the Gainesville Ballet Company and the Gainesville Theatre Alliance. The Quinlan Visual Arts Center mounts regular exhibits and offers art classes and workshops for both adults and children.
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 five independent schools, most notably Riverside Military Academy, one of the only all-boys private military college preparatory schools in the country.
The county is also home to University of North Georgia—Gainesville Campus, Brenau University and Lanier Technical College. It’s also only an hour west of the University of Georgia in Athens, and two hours or less from metro Atlanta’s many colleges and universities, including Georgia State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and Agnes Scott College. These schools help attract many businesses looking for a well-educated workforce.
Hall County is also uniquely positioned as northeast Georgia’s banking and finance center. Asked to summarize the state of the county’s economy, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kit Dunlap says, “It’s doing very well.” This ongoing success is driven by a strong manufacturing presence, with more than 300 companies, including 47 in the Fortune 500, churning out everything from textiles to automobile supplies to consumer goods. Consequently, the area consistently enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state: Between 2012 and 2017, 137 new and expanded industry locations generated nearly 6,300 new jobs and retained over 1,100 more.
Dunlap points to several reasons for the 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 to serve the needs of the businesses it already has.
And residents looking to spend some of the money they make in Hall County don’t lack for shopping options: Gainesville’s Lakeshore Mall is close at hand and the Mall of Georgia in Buford offers more than 200 stores. Nearby, the Tanger Outlets in Commerce and North Georgia Premium Outlet Mall in Dawsonville also offer a wealth of selection.
Despite its many accomplishments, Hall County is not content to rest on its laurels. Through the citizen-directed Vision 2030 initiative, it is undertaking long-term urban planning and redevelopment projects designed to facilitate infrastructure, improve traffic flow, protect and increase greenspace and create public arts districts. The plan also calls for development of a “live, work, play” district in Gainesville that includes a hotel and conference center, and support of a mixed-use community on Lake Lanier. Other communities, including Oakwood, Flowery Branch and Lula have initiated individual improvement projects as well.
Combining a peaceful quality of life with 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. From young families to retirees, there’s something for everyone. Says Dunlap, “Gainesville and Hall County is a dynamic place to live, work, play and stay. ‘From islands to highlands, we have it all!’”
Hall County Government
Hall County Schools
Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce
City of Gainesville
Gainesville City Schools
University of North Georgia - Gainesville Campus
Lanier Technical College
City of Flowery Branch
Lake Lanier Islands Resort