Kennesaw unveils 10-year economic development plan

Brick Kennesaw government building with four tall wooden columnsKennesaw government complex (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

by Rebecca Gaunt

A new 10-year strategic economic development plan for the City of Kennesaw emphasizes creating quality jobs, retaining small businesses, and strengthening downtown’s connection to other local economic activity centers.

Luke Howe, Kennesaw’s economic development director, presented the plan to Mayor Derek Easterling and the City Council at Monday’s work session. A steering team of elected leaders, city staff, and community stakeholders collaborated with RKG Associates over a 10-month period to identify goals and strategies for the city.

Demographic analysis revealed four major findings:

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-The population is getting older, which is putting a strain on the housing stock as many have opted to remain in place. From 2014 to 2019, the number of residents aged 65 and older increased 26%.

-Kennesaw is becoming more diverse. Since 2014, 48% of the population growth is non-white. The Asian population increased by 31%, Black by 12%, and Latino/Hispanic by one percent. However, Kennesaw remains less diverse than the rest of Cobb County and the region. The current population is 62% white, 25% Black, and Asians account for 6% of residents.

-Households are larger. One-person households decreased 12%, while two-person homes went up 20% and three-person homes increased by 18%. Households with five or more people have increased by 35%.

-Incomes are rising. The median income rose to $70,930 and there was a 32% growth in households earning more than $75,000 per year. The highest growth (131%) went to households over $200,000 per year.

RKG also performed an economic base analysis. One of the big findings is unlikely to surprise many.

“Traffic is a problem,” Howe said. “That’s gonna be something that continues to bedevil the entire region – not just us. People are sick of sitting in their cars. It’s a quality of life issue.”

This presents accessibility issues for jobs and puts a strain on roadways.

The analysis also concluded that Kennesaw is balanced in regard to the blue and white-collar job markets and that job growth in the city has outpaced the region.

Howe said he was surprised by the finding that educational attainment is bifurcated.

“We’ve grown tremendously in advanced degrees, which makes sense because of Kennesaw State, but we have seen a big jump in the last ten years in people without high school diplomas,” he said.

According to the analysis, 26% of city residents have a bachelor’s degree and 9% hold an advanced degree. In the last five years, the number of residents with an advanced degree increased by 81% (399 individuals), and the number of people without a high school degree climbed by 59% (660 individuals).

“We’ve already started to work on that. We’ve been engaged with a junior college that wants to be here within the next five years that accepts GED students,” Howe said.

Kennesaw’s five largest industries are retail and trade, government, accommodation and food service, professional, scientific and technical services, and construction. The warehousing and transportation industry has experienced the largest growth.

Of real estate, Howe said, “We don’t have enough housing. It seems like we do because we get this glut of apartment proposals, but we really don’t have enough housing in the city. And I think we can punch above our weight, when it comes to job growth if we really get innovative with housing because nobody is really doing it well.”

While Kennesaw has been a relatively affordable housing market, the rental housing pricing now exceeds the Cobb County average. The analysis warns that increasing housing costs will make attracting resident-workers more difficult.

Additional goals in the plan are to increase community equity with programs for women and minorities, become more business friendly, and to improve the city’s outreach, communication and marketing to prospective and current residents.

Read the full draft plan here.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.

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