Cobb County today is a diverse and rapidly growing county in Metro Atlanta. Just a few decades ago, Cobb County was a sleepy bedroom community, defined by its proximity to Atlanta, rolling farmland, historical sites, and its amusement park, Six Flags Over Georgia. Today, Cobb County is a very different place. Six Flags is still a draw for visitors, but the county has transformed itself into a leading hub for business, sports, cultural activities, and higher education. Located within commuting distance of Atlanta, the county has carefully resisted the challenges of urban sprawl, instead working to create livable towns where residents can access big-city resources while maintaining a small town feel. Cobb County’s cities are building thriving communities where bike paths, walking trails, parks, youth sports complexes, and many other outdoor activities ensure that residents can engage in healthy physical activity.
Marietta is the county’s largest city with a population of approximately 60,000. In a 2013 study, nonprofit healthcare provider Wellstar Cobb Hospital published a Community Health Needs Assessment that cited the following top priorities related to Healthy Lifesyles: healthy eating, obesity, smoking, and physical activity. The report also laid out health priorities to be addressed, such as access to care, heart disease, diabetes, and others. This report, along with other collaborative efforts like Cobb2020, helps to guide efforts to create a healthier community. For example, Marietta’s revitalization efforts have included bringing in a world class arts and entertainment center, developing affordable, safe housing and promoting a diverse business community that attracts both young entrepreneurs and established businesses. According to the 2015 census, Cobb County is the most educated of all Georgia’s counties. The education level means that businesses have access to a talented and prepared workforce. Cobb County also has easy access to one of the world’s busiest airports, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and several interstates intersect the county, which means that a company can get its goods to the global market easily from Cobb County.
Progress like this is no accident. Georgia Trend Magazine interviewed Cobb Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Connell in 2014 to learn more about the vision behind the changes. The magazine reported that a program called Competitive EDGE has been a key factor. Competitive EDGE is a five-year regional growth initiative aimed at highlighting the county’s natural strength and targeting industry clusters beginning to grow organically in the area.
“Cobb invests heavily in the education of its workforce and creates highly qualified labor for businesses,” says Dr. Richard M. Franza, associate dean of academic affairs for Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. “Companies move for various reasons, but if a certain location has a rich pool of labor, they don’t have to spend money to recruit workers.” Economic data reflects these changes, with Cobb County’s businesses outperforming others across the state in the growth of both payroll and the number of employees per firm from 2010-2015.
The Health Means Business premise is that business sector engagement in advancing health and community economic prosperity are linked. How does Cobb County’s health stack up against its positive economic and educational developments?
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings and Roadmaps data provides evidence that Cobb County experienced notable improvements in a number of its health factors during 2010-2015, including a nearly 11% decrease in years of productive life lost, led by a nearly 10% reduction in adult obesity rates. These improvements outpaced improvements by Georgia in general, and coincide with Cobb’s economic growth efforts. The improvements are the result of ongoing collaborative efforts on the part of the local chambers of commerce, working with government, healthcare, and nonprofit leaders to ensure that Cobb County is a healthy place to live, work and play.
Jason O’Rourke, Senior Director of Public Policy and Federal Affairs at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce puts it this way, “We want to develop both the most educated workforce, and the healthiest in Georgia. Building a culture of community and workforce health is a top strategic priority for us. This is why we are particularly excited to partner with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on the Health Means Business campaign.”
Improvements in the built environment and the ability to recruit and retain a talented workforce are two of the five reasons commonly cited by Health Means Business champions as a major return on healthy community investments. Cobb County’s cross-sector collaboration is proof that the private sector has a key role to play in building a culture of health in America.