It’s no secret—Gwinnett County, Ga., is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States, doubling in size each of the last three decades. The result is that a county formerly known as a bedroom community dramatically grew from 70,000 residents in 1970 to more than 825,000 today.
But the population didn’t just get larger: it also became more diverse, making Gwinnett an increasingly international destination both for foreign investors and for immigrant communities.
In 1990, minorities represented less than 10 percent of Gwinnett’s population; by 2010, the County was one of a handful nationwide to officially become a majority-minority community, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The dramatic shift was fed by a rapid influx of foreign-born residents, who represent more than 120 countries and account for more than a quarter of the total population, up from just 5 percent 20 years ago.
Proven to be the most diverse community in the Southeast, Gwinnett ranks among internationally recognizable cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York in this regard. Gwinnett boasts a diversity index of 73.1, which means that if two people are picked at random in the county, there is more than a 73 percent chance that they will have different racial or ethnic backgrounds.
This fact has become evident in the social fabric of our community. Cultural institutions, religious centers and international farmers markets have been sprouting up all over the county. The largest Baps Shri Swaminarayan Hindu temple outside of India is comprised of more than 34,000 individual, hand-carved pieces shipped across the globe to the religious center’s current Lilburn home. The Hui Tz Tao temple, constructed in 2010 by the Taiwanese community, is located on Satellite Boulevard in Gwinnett and is believed to be the largest such temple on the East Coast, if not the nation.
Gwinnett’s shopping plazas also reflect its demographic shifts. The Global Mall, the first indoor South-Asian mall in North America, is located in Norcross and home to more than 60 Indian businesses. Two Assi Plaza International Food Markets, in Suwanee and Duluth, feature a variety of Asian, American, and Hispanic products, foods, and prepared meals. Super H-Mart, a national Korean supermarket chain, has two locations in Gwinnett as well. Great Wall Supermarket, a Chinese grocery, offers a food court and assortment of products serving the Chinese, Taiwanese, and other Asian populations. Appealing to the Korean shoppers, Mega Mart opened its first U.S. location in Spring 2009 at the Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth.
Families relocate to Gwinnett County for two primary reasons—a new job and access to the nationally recognized education system. As the largest school system in Georgia, Gwinnett County Public Schools’ student population represents more than 180 countries, speaking over 60 languages. The school system has improved the quality of education as it has worked to integrate students from various backgrounds, ensuring that they are best prepared to succeed in life. This is accomplished through an effective International Newcomer Center, which welcomes middle and high school students from other countries, and approximately 1,200 ESOL-endorsed teachers who can work with students learning English along with their curriculum.
All of this makes a Gwinnett County a “soft landing” point for international companies and executives transitioning into the U.S. Market. So far, more than 600 internationally based companies call the county home, partially because it offers the institutions and foods that allow them to maintain strong ties to their cultural heritage. Gwinnett County is proud to offer global companies the opportunity to grow their businesses internationally, reach new markets, and live in an environment that respects and appreciates their cultures and nationalities.
Nick Masino is senior vice president for Gwinnett Chamber Economic Development and Partnership Gwinnett.
The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is an annual sponsor of Global Atlanta.