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Crawford County Economic Development Success: Spec Building Sale

In the community’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan, the Crawford County Industrial Park was identified as a specific character area, with goals of attracting appropriate businesses and maintaining high occupancy rates. More recently, the 2012-2016 Short-Term Work Program called for a new speculative building to be constructed with the intention of attracting prospective industries to the county.
The county lacks some of the amenities of larger communities and has such focused on a business-friendly approach to economic development, complete with availability of sites and buildings for new industrial development. The county was able to start site prep and construction on the new building in 2014. In 2016, construction was completed and the building was quickly leased, originally to DOW Chemicals, but then to the Olin Corporation following an acquisition. This success at attracting a new employer represents preplanned efforts of Crawford County and its local partners to stimulate the local economy. The industrial park has become so successful that the county has run out of every large site available and is now looking to procure new land for an additional industrial park.

Eatonton Downtown Business Information Packet

The work program in the City of Eatonton’s recent comprehensive plan update called for the creation of a downtown business informational packet for prospective business owners interested in locating in the downtown. This was undertaken in conjunction with the Eatonton Downtown Development Authority and Eatonton Main Street program. They worked together to create this packet for all new businesses waiting to locate in downtown Eatonton. Until this packet was developed, new businesses had to visit multiple offices in town to acquire the necessary approvals, permits, licenses, etc. This approach created instances of miscommunication between city personnel and confusion on the part of the business owners. Creating what is essentially a “one-stop” package of information helps clarify requirements and opportunities for incentives for new businesses. These guides, that include incentives, legal guidelines and where to obtain help, are available at the City Hall, Planning and Zoning, the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street offices so no matter which agency a new downtown business prospect chooses to approach for assistance, they are receiving the same, comprehensive information. A supporting initiative to market available business locations in downtown is being implemented by Eatonton Main Street, which utilizes the window of a vacant downtown storefront to advertise available downtown properties. http://www.eatontonga.us/ http://eatonton.com/chamber/

Eatonton-Putnam County Zoning and Tax Parcel Coordination

An excellence standard contained in the Middle Georgia RC regional plan is the sharing of services and facilities with neighboring jurisdictions under the Intergovernmental Coordination category. Eatonton and Putnam County have addressed this through their sharing of zoning and tax parcel datasets via an ArcGIS Service. This server maintains needed information for the Tax Assessor as well as provides a secure internet-based mapping application for the Zoning office to use. Through this web-based interface the Zoning office not only has the capability to see changes to parcel geometries in real-time, but they also have the ability to update zoning attributes on the parcel set, which are, in-turn, available to the Tax Assessor in real time. Since the two offices are now providing parcel-based information by collaborating on the same dataset, they no longer have the need to manually reconcile disparate datasets.

The MGRC currently serves the Putnam County Tax Assessor as its parcel maintenance contractor; however, these additional improvements to operational workflows and coordination were provided at no additional charge. These operational improvements are easily reproduced through centralized management of geospatial data by a qualified GIS professional.

Fort Valley - Festival Park

The City of Fort Valley has redeveloped the Woolfolk Superfund site adjacent to its downtown into a park. This site was a presidentially declared superfund site, full of arsenic contamination that underwent several years of remediation to clean it to acceptable standards. The clean up and subsequent reuse of the site as a park addresses items in their comprehensive plan as well as in the City’s redevelopment plan for the area. The new park- Festival Park- is used for city gatherings as well as their annual Hambone Jam, sponsored by Fort Valley Main Street, and held every September. Additionally, the site is being used by a local major industry, the Blue Bird Company, to park finished school buses until they can be delivered. This City-owned site has produced a substantial economic impact, enhancing Fort Valley’s economic prosperity as well as its quality of life. Martha McAfee
City Clerk
City of Fort Valley
Jeffersonville Local Assistance- Middle Ga RC

In its regional plan (2011) the Middle Georgia RC set as part of its vision the desire to be a region where “…a high quality of life is enjoyed by all citizens.” It goes on to state that by 2030, the region will “provide outstanding community facilities and services …promote managed, balanced, quality growth….” The Implementation Program contains several principles and strategies that address guidance for communities to maintain or enhance their quality of life as well as the level of services provided their constituents. One particular guiding principle, “Promote sustainable community growth, development, and redevelopment that follow quality growth management principles and standards.” was challenged when the Jeffersonville city clerk unexpectedly stepped down in summer of 2014, leaving Jeffersonville without the staff resources necessary to meet the city’s administrative needs.

The guiding principles of the regional plan set a foundation for all regional activities and are required for their successful implementation. While the City of Jeffersonville has always operated with a limited administrative staff, it was able to meet these principles until the clerk’s departure. In order for the community to maintain its level of service, staff from the Middle Georgia Regional Commission assisted the city by providing a number of administrative services, including taking minutes at City Council meetings and sending out invoices for business licenses and ad valorem taxes. With the end of the fiscal year approaching, Jeffersonville Mayor Shannon Hart asked for the assistance of the MGRC to help the city set its millage rate and develop its General Fund and Water Fund budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The success of this effort was in keeping the city operational and in compliance with state law, while also engaging city leaders in the process of budgetary planning.
Middle Georgia Regional Commission 

Jeffersonville Water Meter Replacement Program

The City of Jeffersonville’s comprehensive plan contains both short- and long-term activities related to the provision of water to its citizenry, as well as making good use of existing infrastructure to minimize the need for costly new facilities. Funded through a GEFA loan, and completed in early fall 2013, the Jeffersonville Water Meter project, which included the city-wide replacement of every water meter with radio read meters, is already significantly improving accuracy of water billing. Prior to the introduction of the new water meters, the city water utility billed approximately $32,000 monthly; however, after the project, billed increased approximate 8%. In addition to providing more accurate readings, which translates into increased revenues, the City is also saving several hundred dollars monthly on piecemeal repairs. Additionally, when well #1 failed, Georgia Power bills for the well pump went from the $490-550 monthly range to $2100, another burdensome cost to the city. Fortunately, the water meter project also included repairs to Well #1, which when completed, settled the City’s Georgia Power bills back to customary levels. The project provides cost savings, more accurate meter readings and much-needed increased revenues to this small, rural community. Other similarly situated communities may want to consider embarking on a water meter improvement project to realize similar benefits.  http://www.middlegeorgiarc.org/

Jones County Trailhead: a PlanFirst success

The Jones County Comprehensive Plan includes activities of the City of Gray Downtown Development Authority (DDA) because the County contributes funding to the DDA. The Jones County Short Term Work Program (STWP), contained within the Comprehensive Plan, had the following action item: “Make improvements to downtown Gray for use as a byway trailhead, including designing and maintaining streetscape and facades.” The Ocmulgee-Piedmont Scenic Byway begins in Jones County, and runs along Highway 11, winding among rolling hills dotted with pastures, woodlands and small quaint communities from an earlier era, and then follows Round Oak Juliette Road to its end at the Ocmulgee River. This trailhead established for the scenic byway is in downtown Gray. It is located in the Gray Welcome Center, located in downtown Gray, and provides information and access to the scenic byway running through the county. The building used for the welcome center was a well-known landmark in Gray for many years, but had been neglected and was in need of attention. The Downtown Development Authority, in cooperation with both local governments, has renovated this historic, traditional red brick building, which will now be used to educate and enlighten visitors who find themselves in Jones County. http://scenicbyways.info/byway/70282.html 

LiDAR Training for local governments

In March 2015, the Middle Georgia Regional Commission (MGRC), in partnership with Baldwin County Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Information Technology Outreach Service (ITOS), co-hosted a free educational seminar on Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology. LiDAR is a way to portray the earth’s surface through remote sensing, giving a three-dimensional image of the land it is scanning, thus the land use and existing conditions of a particular area. Using LiDAR a community or agency can truly map the land.

The 2015-2019 Middle Georgia Regional Work Program update noted under Community Facilities and Services that the MGRC would “Explore the feasibility of acquiring highly accurate elevation (LiDAR) data and region wide ortho-aerial photography.” The acquisition of this equipment would greatly benefit agencies throughout its 11-county region.

Over fifty (50) GIS professionals, practitioners and enthusiasts from state and local government agencies, as well as private sector companies, from across the State of Georgia heard informative presentations on a range of topics designed to increase understanding of the technology, its use, and its value to the state and its local communities. This project is an act of implementation to the Regional Work Program because of the technology’s implications community and economic development, public safety and emergency preparedness, environmental planning and conservation, infrastructure mapping and more. Each attendee left with a more robust knowledge of new and emerging technologies that will have practical implications across the region and beyond.

This training also addressed an item in the 2011 regional plan. That plan identified the need for local land use education and therefore the related opportunity to provide that education. It specifically listed the opportunity for education and training for local planning officials. Land use management is of primary concern to the counties within the Middle Georgia region.
Middle Georgia Regional Commission 

Macon Neighborhood Revitalization

The City of Macon values its traditional neighborhoods. Throughout its comprehensive plan are policies, strategies and implementation measures aimed at strengthening and revitalizing these neighborhoods. Of special importance are those historic neighborhoods adjacent to the Urban/Downtown Macon character area, including the Beall’s Hill neighborhood, which sits between downtown Macon and Mercer University. Beall's Hill is the third neighborhood surrounding Tattnall Square Park to be revitalized since 1996. This project received rezoning approval that allows mixed-use redevelopment, including residential, multi-family dwellings, neighborhood business/retail, public buildings, public parks and churches. Redevelopment of this neighborhood has improved the neighborhood for residential and commercial residents, adding workforce housing as well as space for retail redevelopment. The Beall’s Hill neighborhood is part of the College Hill Corridor, an economic development entity focusing on creating jobs and housing throughout this corridor between Mercer and downtown Macon. Macon Bibb Planning and Zoning

Macon's Mulberry Market

Central Georgia Healthworks in Macon began the City Market on the Green as a weekly initiative to encourage economic development, encourage healthy lifestyles and healthy eating, and create a sense of community in downtown Macon. It is a producer-only market operated each Wednesday from 4-7 pm, giving access to fresh produce (seasonal offerings), meats, dairy, etc. provided by local farmers. The project received the attention of several local small producers who were unable to expand their production due to a lack of storefront for their product. It provided them access to a market for their goods. An added benefit is that residents of downtown Macon have a market available to them that is walkable. The Market has been so successful that it recently moved to nearby Tattnall Square Park to provide the much needed additional space for both vendors and shoppers.
Middle Georgia local government web site development

The 2011-2015 regional work program for the Middle Georgia Regional Commission (MGRC) has as a work activity, to “Create, maintain, promote, and host web pages for local governments, development authorities, and other regional entities.” In implementing that particular work activity, the MGRC expanded its website services program to provide enhanced, modern web-presence solutions for its member local governments and partner agencies.

Websites are increasingly becoming the primary means of providing information to and receiving information from the public therefore, it is important to have a user-friendly site that represents the organization in a positive manner; moreover, a quality web-presence is essential to economic development initiatives because the website is often the first and only source of information a prospective industry or business will use to understand the community and whether or not it is a place they should do business.

Since April 2014, the MGRC has deployed new or redesigned websites for 15 of its member local governments and partner agencies, including Putnam and Jones counties, the cities of Eatonton and Perry and partner agencies such as the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition and the Crawford County Development Authority. The results of these efforts will be more attractive, accessible websites that will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the communities while appealing to citizens and industry.

Middle Georgia RC Multi-Commission River Corridor Feasibility Study

This multi-region feasibility study examines, in detail, the feasibility of establishing linkage and connectivity through the use of multi-use tails, greenways, water trails, conservation areas and recreation facilities along the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers. Starting in Athens-Clarke County and ending at Lake Jackson in Butts County, the proposed river corridor will connect significant historic, cultural and environmental resources. This study was conducted through funding made available from the Georgia Department of Transportation. Phase I of the study was completed in 2011 and primarily included a descriptive inventory of the river corridor resources and assets. Phase II, completed in 2012, includes a comprehensive analysis of the inventory and implementation strategies for creating regional linkages, promotion of the river corridor for regional tourism, as well as laying groundwork for future steps of corridor development. Middle Georgia Regional Commission

Middle Georgia…Growing Strong

The need for regional economic resiliency and diversification has long been noted as an issue in regional planning in Middle Georgia. It was emphasized not only in the 2016 Regional Plan but also in the 2011 Regional Plan and the 2012 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). To help address this, in 2014, the Middle Georgia Regional Commission undertook the Middle Georgia … Growing Strong initiative, a series of planning and research initiatives aimed at the diversification of the regional economy. Under a grant from the Department of Defense, Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA), MGRC completed work on the various components of this initiative in May 2016. The overall goals to protect Robins Air Force Base while growing a diverse economy were the inspiration for this project to begin once funding was identified.
The Middle Georgia … Growing Strong initiative developed several asset maps which have been very useful in completing analyses of the economic strengths and deficiencies of the region, including providing insight into clusters of significant economic growth and opportunity. Coupled with the asset maps were several other direct studies of job skills for in-demand positions and the relative strengths of Middle Georgia’s fastest growing industry—freight and logistics. This information has successfully assisted MGRC and local economic development entities with the development of plans to attract new industry. For MGRC directly, this work fed into a second application from OEA which is currently underway.

Ocmulgee River Water Trail Partnership

This project represents successful regional intergovernmental coordination, quality of life enhancement through appropriate land use practices, increased economic development opportunities as well as protection of natural, cultural and historic resources.

The Ocmulgee River Water Trail Project started in 2010 as a partnership between the counties of Bleckley, Houston, Twiggs, and Pulaski and the City of Hawkinsville. The first phase of the water trail was completed in 2010. The success of the Phase 1 Ocmulgee Water Trail led to discussions about expanding it to include a 200 mile section of river from Macon to the start of the Altamaha River near Lumber City in Telfair County.

Project partners involved in the discussion were as follows: NewTown Macon, Ocmulgee National Monument, Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative, Middle Georgia Regional Commission, Southern Georgia Regional Commission, Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission, Robins Air Force Base, GA Canoeing Association, Hawkinsville River Advisory Group, Hawkinsville/United Pulaski E. D. & COC, Counties of Bibb, Twiggs, Houston, Bleckley, Monroe, and Pulaski, Rivers Alive/Hawkinsville, Ocmulgee River Conservation Association, Altamaha River Partnership, City of Fitzgerald Tourism Office, City of Perry, City of Woodbine, City of Hawkinsville, UGA Archway Foundation, GA Dept. Economic Development, GA DNR, Bond Swamp NWR, Cochran/Bleckley Chamber of Commerce, GA Wilderness Society.

The outcome of these discussions was to create an Ocmulgee Water Trail Partnership (OWTP). To date, county representatives have been appointed, bylaws drafted and adopted, officers elected, a website established, a logo created, and an informational brochure developed.

The 200 mile Ocmulgee River Water Trail will be a premier destination for paddlers and river enthusiasts that will provide a variety of recreational activities and promote local and regional economic improvements. It is also important to note that the Ocmulgee Water Trail Partnership project is consistent with the goals and priorities of the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) of protecting open space, wetland preservation, and the provision of linkages between parks and recreation facilities.
Peach County Workforce Development Center

The lack of a nearby workforce development center was identified as a need in their 2006 Comprehensive Plan and helped keep a focus on this project among county leaders. It returned in the 2012 Short Term-Work Program, and after working with Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) the county began construction in 2015. Peach County is one of the more populous counties within Middle Georgia and is a key part of the regional industrial base. It is the home of Blue Bird, one of the largest manufacturers in the area, and supplies a substantial portion of the workforce for Robins Air Force Base. The need for such a center in the County was great.
The building had its grand opening in mid-2016. In addition to providing ample space for Central Georgia Technical College, the building also contains new offices for the Peach County Development Authority. Today, the facility is in operation and hosts a variety of programs to assist Peach County residents and industries. CGTC offers two programs onsite in welding and forklift operation. These classes have been coordinated with Blue Bird to assist with meeting their workforce development needs. The facility also hosts satellite classes, which are transmitted from the Macon campus. This program now provides a new service that was previously non-existent within the county and should be considered a success insofar as it expands job training opportunities for Peach County residents.

People Looking Ahead Now (PLAN)

People Looking Ahead Now (PLAN) is the local grassroots organization for the City of Gray and Jones County charged with fostering implementation of the comprehensive plan. It was created over 10 years ago as a way for everyday citizens to become involved in guiding their county's future growth and development. A planning retreat is held annually to identify specific issues to focus on during the year, and breakfast meetings are held during the year to update their membership on activities within the community. PLAN has brought about many changes, including sidewalk and buffer ordinances and a new streetscape in downtown Gray. Among its many activities, PLAN has also been involved in the County’s participation in the GICH program, through its housing committee serving as the GICH committee.
Regional Commission Digital Economy Plans- Statewide RCs

Under the auspices of the Georgia Technology Authority, funded by a State Broadband Initiative grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Georgia’s regional commissions participated in the Digital Economic Planning Program, to develop digital economy plans for their respective regions. These plans are concentrated within the individual geographic boundaries, and are unique to their specific region. The purpose of these plans was to inventory and document the existing and future digital needs of the state, including services, technology levels and broadband needs and capabilities. This would help local communities better leverage technological assets and benefit from faster connections to the world around them. (Scroll down for more.)

The planning process was a uniform one across the state. The regional commissions, with oversight provided by the Middle Georgia Regional Commission (MGRC), held workshops and other public participation opportunities to gather input from local governments, local business entities, and the general public. Part of this stakeholder involvement process included a detailed SWOT© analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/challenges) to determine local service levels. Out of this process, regional commissions were able to determine strategies for serving their constituents- filling gaps and strengthening existing levels of service.

Several initiatives have developed because of these digital economy plans. For instance: the Middle Georgia RC presented a digital economy summit to a statewide audience in October 2014; MGRC partnered with other interested parties to establish a “makerspace” in Macon, known as SparkMacon, which is up and running successfully.

The River Valley RC was involved with the development of a makerspace in downtown Columbus, Columbusmakesit.com. The RC effort has raised nearly $200,000 in space donations, equipment donations and support. Also, the makerspace has nearly 1,000 friends following the project on Facebook. The makerspace was included in a White House press release on makerspaces across the country. The press release may be found at http://www.rivervalleyrc.org/index.php/planning-community-development/digital-economy. A video that was created for the first meeting in April 2015 is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ2vgniNBjQ .
Brent Lanford
Middle GA RC

Revitalization and Development in Downtown Roberta

The City of Roberta has had success with its downtown revitalization program. It all started with planned public investments designed to attract new private interest in the downtown area. The Roberta comprehensive plan (both in 2006 and the 2012 update) highlighted the importance of downtown for retail, commercial and residential development. It included a work activity of identifying funding for both public and private improvements to the downtown, some to be used for grants and loans to support downtown redevelopment efforts. One important step in realizing this vision was the creation of a 5 1/2 acre park to replace the railroad tracks that were the original reason for the City’s existence. The park provides the citizens with a walking trail, benches, lamp posts, a fountain, and a gazebo, all in the center of downtown. Further public investment downtown included the recycling center and civic center, both of which also serve as public meeting facilities, and The Depot, a replica of one that burned in 1950, which now houses the Chamber offices. This planning and supporting public investment has paid off, as several buildings in the downtown have been restored and, recently, a new restaurant opened, Champion’s, named for Roberta McCrary Champion, the town’s namesake, and located in her historic family home.
Warner Robins Downtown TAD

As the City of Warner Robins grew rapidly through the 1990s and early 2000s, the city began to encounter more challenges related to an urban environment. Chief among these was the need for redevelopment in a town center area that had begun to experience higher rates of vacancy, crime, and poverty. In response, the City of Warner Robins designated the town center area as an Urban Redevelopment Area (URA) and charged the Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency with managing projects to revitalize the community.

Warner Robins has taken many strides in this direction, particularly residential redevelopment. However, this redevelopment often did not include stimulating new business growth. For that, the city determined that a Tax Allocation District (TAD) would be the best tool, and placed the creation of a TAD in the 2012-2016 Short-Term Work Program. The establishment of Tax Allocation Districts is considered a best practice in economic development by DCA, and the Middle Georgia Regional Plan encourages Tax Allocation Districts as an implementation measure for Areas in Need of Redevelopment. This regional plan pays special attention to the redevelopment of older commercial areas in the regional, and emphasizes the use of tools such as TADs to redevelop these areas back into productive use for the community.

Local officials from Warner Robins, Houston County, and the Houston County Board of Education met frequently over several years (starting as early as 2012) to reach agreement on the allocation of taxes from each governing entity. The eventual breakthrough of these talks, which allowed the TAD to become effective in 2016, represents success in establishing intergovernmental cooperation.
Gary Lee
Executive Director

Warner Robins Historic Preservation Training- MG RC

Two of the implementation activities listed in the 2011-2015 Middle Georgia RC Regional Work Program are to “Provide outreach, training, and technical assistance on Historic Preservation-related topics through presentations at institutions, agencies, government meetings, workshops, symposiums, etc.” and to “Provide technical assistance to local historic preservation organizations.” With this in mind, Regional Commission staff assisted the newly formed Warner Robins Historic Preservation Commission members with various questions and helped lay the framework for the commission.

As a young community with history dating back only to World War II, the City of Warner Robins has realized that the preservation of heritage is essential to the promotion of the health, prosperity and general welfare of the people. With that in mind, in 2013, the City of Warner Robins created a Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to support and further the preservation of historical, cultural, and aesthetic heritage. The newly established commission consists of five members who were appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The members, each with differing levels of experience, education, and preservation knowledge, required training on best-practices and responsibilities of the HPC.

Over the course of six months, the MGRC provided training to the Warner Robins HPC on the following topics: the Importance of Historic Preservation; Robert’s Rules of Order; Differences between National Register Historic Districts and Local Historic Districts; Public Relations; Georgia Alliances for Historic Preservation Commissions (GAPC); and, Historic Preservation Commission and Certified Local Governments (CLG) Program Information. Because of the training provided by MGRC staff, this commission has been able to lay a solid foundation for future efforts in historic preservation. In providing this training, the MG RC moved forward in implementing specific activities in its regional work program, as well as addressing items in the work program of the Warner Robins comprehensive plan.


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