There’s a story Mayor Mark Mathews likes to tell when he’s asked to define what the small business community means to the historic city of Kennesaw. In 2010, Brett Olszeski, owner of the Trackside Grill, a local restaurant located in the center of the downtown district, wanted to expand. His wish list included doubling his square footage and adding a rooftop bar. After Olszeski met with the city and the Kennesaw Downtown Development Authority, they helped facilitate a loan for the expansion through the Georgia Cities Foundation.
In 2011, Trackside Grill’s completed its expansion. Today, the restaurant is one of downtown Kennesaw’s key centerpieces.
“It continues to bring a new vitality to the area and acts as a catalyst for additional development,” Mathews says. “Trackside has since added more than 20 jobs to the area.”
And that’s good numbers.
And Mathews loves numbers.
Over the past year, the city of Kennesaw, has added five new industrial businesses that account for more than 400,000 square feet of unoccupied space and 400 more new jobs.
And the retail environment, one of the city’s strongest sectors, is showing similar growth by adding new establishments and lowering its vacancy rate over the past 12 months. From the lowest point in the market for rental space, the city reduced vacancy by 50,000 square feet with new rentals. Mathews says an additional 25,000 square feet of vacant retail space will be converted to health care in 2013.
“Even with the recession, the number of businesses has been consistent,” says Mathews, who was first elected mayor in 2008 and re-elected for a second term last year.
“Business license issuance has actually grown. This year, we’ve already hosted 20 new business ribbon cuttings.”
The amount of occupancy tax (business license revenue) the city collected was $962,611 in 2010 and $968,832 in 2011.
“That’s less than a 1 percent difference, but still an increase,” Mathews says. “The good news is year to date in fiscal 2012; collections are up over 8 percent to $1,049,856.”
When it comes to economic viability, Kennesaw continues to be recession-proof. Defined by its diverse business environment – light industrial, logistics, professional services, healthcare and retail – Mathews says the city and surrounding area is trending younger, too.
“The explosive growth of Kennesaw State University in our own backyard (now the state’s third largest university), as well as Chattahoochee Tech and Southern Poly Tech, is giving us a young, talented and educated work force.”
Just how vital is KSU to the city’s business dynamic? According to a recent study by the University System of Georgia, the university’s overall economic impact is more than $850 million. Of that total, more than $385 million is directed to labor expenditures both at the university and in the surrounding business community.
The study estimates the value of KSU at 8,324 jobs for the area. For local businesses the economic impact is significant, as among other factors, much of the local workforce, especially on the retail side, consists of college students. The study indicates that more than 4,000 jobs are supported outside the university.
“In a nutshell, KSU serves as a catalyst for spending and buying products like any other business, but also buying labor, which in turn, spends that income in local businesses,” says Drew Tonsmeire, area director of the Kennesaw State University Small Business Development Center.
Kennesaw, like the rest of the metro area and state, is continuing to emerge from the “survival” stage, Tonsmeire says.
“The housing market, like much of the economy, has been the slowest segment to regain ground. But the retail and service sectors are showing improvements. Kennesaw reflects the overall makeup of Cobb in that it has a diverse business culture, so not having the concentration tied to just one industry has helped the com-munity weather the storm.”
One of the city’s strengths is its local business community leadership, which along with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Kennesaw Business Association (KBA), features a slew of local business organizations. “There is something very unique about the relationship between these business associations and the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce,” Tonsmeire says. “In most circumstances, local associations run competitively to a chamber. But in Cobb, the chamber is an ally.”
Tonsmeire cites last year’s chamber membership drive, where the most successful recruiting team consisted of the presidents of the local business associations.
“This attitude of service and community and economic development among these groups is extraordinary, and reflects upon why the Cobb business community is one of the strongest, not only in metro Atlanta, but in the South as a whole.”
As the general manager for the Town Center at Cobb, John “JD” DiCioccio sees these partnerships at work on a daily basis. The regional mall, a hub of entrepreneurial ventures, offers something for everyone.
“We have a solid platform for people to start their own businesses. It starts with a very strong, loyal and fast-growing customer base. The Kennesaw area consists of a well-educated, densely populated consumer with disposable income, which is an ideal situation for growing businesses.”
Roger Bush, who has owned the College Station Sports Store at Town Center at Cobb for 12 years, says he wouldn’t want to do business any place else.
“Kennesaw is a melting pot and is changing in diversity. It pulls from a lot of different areas, and provides a gathering place and market for a diverse and varied group of people.”
Perhaps no business personifies the Kennesaw business community than Classic Monograms. Owned by the mother and daughter team of Joyce Sullivan and Paige Barton, the company has specialized in embroidered products for the past 16 years. Their continued growth and success mirrors that of the city’s small business community.
“The people of Kennesaw have a strong sense of community and family,” Sullivan says. “They support the small business community by continuing to shop locally. Kennesaw is a small town with cosmopolitan sensibilities. And while our business pays close attention to the trends that surround what we do, we also keep in mind those traditions. We have seen the small business community growth in our own company’s growth.”