The Union Recorder

April 18, 2013

Initiative pushes unified vision for community

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —

Resource consolidation fosters better long-range growth and community economic success. A strategic or master plan identifies who wants to go where and when.

The Unified Community Vision plan initiative, created by the Business Development Committee under the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce, strives to create collaborative vision and goals for community improvement. The first six months began with collection of strategic plans from key Milledgeville education, business and other vital stakeholders.

Business Development Committee chair and Digital Bridges director Tommy Cook said few local organizations had future blueprints in place. Working with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission (MGRC), the committee hopes to find common goals and establish a unified plan to direct efforts moving forward.

Mayor Richard Bentley wrote for technical assistance from the MGRC on behalf of the project.

“We asked if they’d help us construct a plan that would tie together all of the strategic initiatives of the different organizations around Milledgeville,” Cook said. 

During a recent information gathering session, the committee noticed many local entities either had no long term plans or just weren’t following them.

Dr. Dale Young, interim dean of the College of Business at Georgia College and Business Development Committee member, said not acting on a plan is just as harmful as not having one. With help from the MGRC, Young said the vision plan’s goals are making sure community stakeholders know the best places to focus and use scarce resources.

“All communities need to recognize that resources are limited; it’s critical for communities to move in a single direction and to be highly focused in the efforts they make toward community improvement and economic development. Therefore, a visioning exercise like this is a critical first step that eventually would move you to a very specific strategic plan. Until there is a unified vision and a clear set of priorities, it’s difficult to move forward with any planning,” Young said.

One of the main reasons behind the unified master plan is finding out whether different organizations are working toward common goals or perhaps going in divergent directions without knowing it. 

“We can get everyone on the same page whether it is to create jobs or bring industry or small business here,” Cook said.

MGRC’s government services specialist Courtney Verdier helps communities collect background data such as demographics, housing and income statistics. On behalf of the regional commission, Verdier provides technical assistance pulling what local stakeholders are doing for economic development or housing.

Finding similarities amongst organizations isn’t uncommon. The MGRC specialist wants to discover ways these groups can partner.

“One of the reasons is making sure that the different organizations can maximize their resources and come together,” Verdier said. “It’s important everyone isn’t working against each other.”

Strategic plans establish goal setting framework with action steps of how to get there. The Business Development Committee hopes the unified effort encourages creating one.

“Most don’t have them. Maybe this effort will help start that effort to get people thinking about having some kind of guidebook to keep you accountable,” Verdier said.

After working with NewTown Macon’s similar downtown stakeholder planning last year, the MGRC understands the importance of full-scale buy in. Last week’s gathering showed local commitment.

“It’s good to have all the stakeholders sitting in the same room hearing from each other to spark conversation but also educate others on what their organization does,” Verdier said.

Cook added the community vision plan wouldn’t work without at least one representative from every organization saying, “we support this, we think it’s a good idea and how can we help?”

Making local parties aware of educational and technical resources like Digital Bridges and the MGRC can boost operational well being as well.

“If people were aware of the resources to provide them assistance, it will make the various organizations here within the city and county much more effective,” Young said.

To date, the Chamber group hasn’t laid any concrete steps. Young said the committee would get back together and review information provided by stakeholders so far.

The GC interim business dean said the process challenges but identifying key focus areas for the community simplifies the vision.

The MGRC will review all strategic plans and working goals creating a finished executive summary. Stakeholders can edit where necessary.

Cook seemed optimistic the Unified Community Vision plan would be finished before 2014.

“We are going to work on it as fast as we can essentially,” the Digital Bridges director said.

Young believes in the initiative’s worth.

“We are extremely optimistic and have quite a bit of community support,” Young said. “We look forward to this project.”

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