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City, county discuss economic development

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    DEBBIE LURIE-SMITH/Staff Middle Georgia Regional Commission Director Laura Mathis (far right) speaks to the joint meeting of Gray and Jones County elected officials Nov. 27. The focus of the quarterly meeting was economic developm


Elected officials and administrators of Jones County and the City of Gray were presented the hard facts about economic development at a joint meeting hosted at Tri-County EMC.

The Nov. 27 meeting was facilitated by Greg Boike, Director of Public Administration for the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

The meeting was attended by Jones County Commission Chairman Chris Weidner, Commissioner Sam Kitchens, County Administrator Jason Rizner, Gray Mayor Ed Barbee, Mayor Pro Tem James Collins, Councilmen Terry Favors and Terrell Fulford, Jones County/ Gray Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Haley Watson, School Superintendent Chuck Gibson, Jones County College and Career Academy CEO Laura Rackley and Board of Education member-elect Mike Gordon.

Other interested parties attending were Greg Mullis, senior vice-president of corporate services for Tri-County EMC, who is also a member of the Development Authority of Jones County, and consulting engineer for Jones County, Tim Ingram.

Boike asked what was new since the last quarterly meeting, and Gibson spoke up about the JCCCA. He said the project was at the half way point and when complete would enhance Jones County.

“We are on schedule and on point,” the superintendent said.

Rackley said dual enrollment had been expanded, and next year, Junior ROTC and engineering would be added. She added that the community had been supportive.

Watson noted that the Georgia Economic Development Tourism Product Development Team would present its report Dec. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the W.E. Knox Civic Center. The team of experts visited Jones County in September to look at tourism and other economic development opportunities.

“We’re excited because this means a lot to our county,” she said.

Mathis presentation

Boike introduced MGRC Executive Director Laura Mathis as the foremost expert in the area for economic development.

Mathis said she was excited that the new incoming officials attended the meeting.

“This is going to be an abbreviated conversation about a complex topic,” she explained.

The speaker noted that the Georgia Academy for Economic Development starts in January and consists of four full day sessions. She added that the ACCG and GMA both have economic development courses.

Mathis said the MGRC has been designated by the U.S. Department of Commerce to work with communities in the economic development process. She said the traditional type of economic development was to attract industry.

The definition of economic development in her power point presentation was activities that involve private investment and/ or job creation. She said that could include new industry, existing industry, small business and commercial, and tourism and film.

Mathis said the state has departments that recruit prospects, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Department of Community Affairs. She said utility companies also assist communities with the process.

She said local economic development agencies are development authorities and downtown development authorities as well as members of the private sector, including consultants, brokers and developers.

Mathis said the challenge for a community is to be ready for economic development.

“Your part can make or break the deal,” she said.

The speaker emphasized that the whole process when dealing with prospects is typically very confidential.

She asked what type of business the panel members would be interested in attracting and Barbee said for the city it was small mom and pop type companies. Kitchens said the county was seeking more industrial-type businesses.

Mathis asked who was the point of contact for prospects, and Barbee said that was the problem.

“That’s what we need, one single point of contact,” he said.

Kitchens said the officials all know what Jones County and Gray has to offer prospects but he is not sure that message is getting out.

“We are not a cohesive, one-stop shop. We definitely need one point of contact,” he said.

The commissioner went on to say that the JCCCA was growing the county’s work force, but it all boils down to money.

Mathis agreed.

“Do you want to stay where you are or do you want to expand? The decision is most successful when it is made by all the players,” she said.

Kitchens said residential growth means more rooftops and more services.

“Companies are less of a burden,” he said.

The commissioner said he could envision a future where the city and board of education were represented on the Development Authority. Mathis said ex-officio members on the board would be a good addition while not changing the structure of the Development Authority.

Weidner said he receives as many calls asking for information about the city as he does for the county.

Mullis said he has no doubt that working with prospects is a relationship game. He said that is the challenge of most communities.

“I highly recommend that the contact person attend state economic development functions,” he said.

Mathis said part of the relationship component is deciding the who and then how to connect with resources and the powers that be.

“You have to trust each other and have good expectations,” she said.

Local example

Gibson said when the Board of Education started talking about the JCCCA, the old mindset was to put its administration under an assistant principal or CTAE director.

“But from the inception of doing anything, we made a clear commitment to have a CEO for the JCCCA,” he said. “They need to be in that swimming pool with others in the state.”

The superintendent said the commitment of Rackley being the CEO was independent of the anticipated grant from the Technical College System of Georgia.

“It was clearly communicated that she is in charge. You need to get a mover and a shaker,” he said, and quickly added, “But Mrs. Rackley is off limits.”

Gibson said the challenge is to break the trend of the way things had always been done.

Mathis asked the next steps for Jones County and Kitchens said it was a description of duties for the contact person.

“We have to know what the position looks like,” he said.

Mullis also suggested reaching out for salary ranges.

The next joint meeting is scheduled Feb. 26, 2019.