He was accompanied on the podium during the morning session of the conference by Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner, Fulton County Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards, Clayton County Director of Economic Development Grant Wainscott, and Fayette County Chairman Matt Forshee.
Smith gave a presentation on the Home Depot Direct fulfillment center, which recently opened in Locust Grove.
He said Home Depot’s capital investment in the new facility was more than $80 million and will eventually create 300 jobs in Henry County.
He noted that the new facility is one of four Home Depot supply chain facilities that operates in Henry County and there are many reasons businesses are choosing to locate to the county.
Smith also briefly discussed the importance of the Southern Crescent Technical College’s Henry County campus, which is expected to open this year.
One building is near completion and the master plan is to have eight buildings adjacent to Henry County High School in McDonough.
Also in attendance at the conference were Commissioner Bruce Holmes and county Development Authority Director Bob White.
During the afternoon session, Mercer University economist Roger Tutterow predicted metro Atlanta in 2014 will continue its journey to a pre-recession “normal.”
“There is nothing to suggest that 2014 will be anything other than a sixth year of economic expansion,” he said about indicators like consumer confidence, gross domestic product and a monthly index from New York-based think tank The Conference Board.
Even with GDP growth at 3.2 percent, the economy still has to cross two “thresholds” before regaining 2007’s momentum, Tutterow said.
One is the amount of equity in homeowners’ property; the other is the number of employed residents, which he said is returning to 2007 levels.
“We’re adding jobs faster than the national average,” Tutterow said. He said job seekers from other states will relocate in greater numbers to the metro area, including the Southern Crescent – of which Henry County is part – as it is becoming “a hub” for film and television companies.
When newcomers arrive, they will be securing loans for new homes more easily than in the last six years, at interest rates not likely to rise for at least a year, Tutterow said.
“The bank of today wants to make loans. It’s a borrower’s market if you can qualify,” he said.
Another economic indicator is the number of permits issued for new home construction, a figure which plunged 34 percent during the recession.
“We’re going to see those home starts and home sales come roaring back,” Tutterow said.
The conference was founded by former Fulton County Commissioner Michael Hightower, now the managing partner of The Collaborative Firm, an organization that specializes in planning, program management and development.
Now in its 12th year, the conference is a platform for important issues in Clayton, Coweta, Douglas, Fayette, Henry, Spalding and south Fulton counties plus the city of Atlanta.