As I was installed as your ACCG president during a small ceremony in Jefferson County amongst my closest family members and colleagues, I was reminded of the significant responsibility of representing all counties. This is a responsibility that I will proudly fulfill over the next year. One of my top priorities as president includes helping rural communities find stability in a world where urban communities have huge advantages. The disparities among the two are apparent and are often starkly marked with a digital divide. The disparities affect rural communities’ ability to provide the most efficient services and resources to their constituents. My experience growing up and raising a family in Jefferson County, a county with a population of less than 20,000, has allowed me to become familiar with the key areas rural communities need to focus on to obtain growth and achieve success.
A big obstacle many small communities face is meeting the demands of an evolving workforce. As the younger generation prepares to enter the workforce, the limited employment opportunities force them to seek opportunities elsewhere. To retain this younger workforce, counties—especially rural counties—must position themselves so they can attract new businesses. Currently, Georgia is home to approximately 800 different international companies.
A few things you should examine or consider are whether your county has a trained workforce, available housing to accommodate employees of the new companies, and the availability of real estate (land for new constructions or county-owned property that can be repurposed). Think twice before you decide that your county has nothing to offer. Focus on what makes your community unique and how to use that to secure new business in your county. Think beyond county lines and consider collaborating with a neighboring county to create an industrial complex. Use creativity to put your county in a better space to adapt to the changing times.
The decisions you make as a leader not only impact the county’s economic standing. It impacts the residents who call the area home and with economic growth comes a potential increase in population. There are many questions associated with positioning the county for success. Is your county equipped to house the incoming workforce? Are your constituents ready to welcome this expansion? Are your constituents and fellow commissioners receptive to change? Ultimately, the county is in better standing when all parties are on the same page, especially the leadership. Realizing the benefits of change will allow your community to grow. True leaders are open to change because it brings forth growth.
Lastly, it’s important to look at the county as a whole. Evaluate access to and the quality of various resources, from the recreation facilities to trade schools and broadband. Almost 100%, if not all, facets of our lives are dependent on internet access. Thus, rural communities must leverage available resources to ensure they are broadband ready.
Now is the time to position your county for economic success. As your ACCG president, I intend to help counties prepare for success and learn what it takes to move to the next level, whether it’s helping you navigate longstanding underlying social issues that hinder your community from advancing or helping leaders manage internal conflict to maintain a healthy work environment. Every county should have an equal opportunity to stimulate their economy. Discuss with your fellow local elected officials if the county is equipped for growth and whether you are doing what you can as leaders to provide the best opportunities for your constituents. Every county can flourish. Do your part to ensure your community does.