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February 28, 2014

Community input surveys evaluate the status quo

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Baldwin community has work to do to better leverage assets and improve several perceived weaknesses identified in recent Community Input Survey results.

At Wednesday’s Chamber Eggs & Issues gathering, Milledgeville-Baldwin County Community Strategic Planning Initiative Chair Johnny Grant shared findings from the 1,523 responses.

“There is a need for Milledgeville and Baldwin County to come together with some kind of unified direction or initiatives the people as a whole can get behind,” Grant said. “We want to continue this on to completion with the end result being a vision for the community.”

A 6 percent survey return is better than most. Digital and paper surveys were compiled.

Respondents aged 45 to 65 years old comprised more than half of the surveys. More than 80 percent of the responders were Caucasian, while just 14 percent were African-American.

“We were not happy about this,” Grant said. “We tried to reach into the black community to get more response. This is something we know we have to work on.”

Baldwin County working adults and homeowners filled out the most surveys.

Most people envision Baldwin County as a “thriving business and industry center” in the coming years. The ball can’t stop rolling.

“What it points to is that residents want the community to work toward trying to bring in jobs. Economic development is something that’s vital to the community,” Grant said. “There is still a perception that we aren’t doing enough.”

Other high marks were in “tourism, arts and recreation” and “higher education.”

“We are doing a lot of the things the community wants us to do in the future,” he said. “Perhaps, we need to do a better job.”

According to the surveys, Baldwin could improve the marketing of Lake Sinclair and efficiently capitalize on the educated college population

Also, the results ranked law enforcement agencies, fire department, lake, Oconee River Greenway and Twin Lakes Library as “shining star” assets.

Weaknesses listed in the 1,500 surveys included public transportation, adult recreation, traffic control, streets and roads and air travel and shipping access.

“We recognized years ago this was a problem in the community,” Grant said. “The status quo isn’t good enough.”

Evaluations of community readiness told Grant local entities don’t do a good enough job of “shouting positive news from the rooftops.”

There were more “occasionally” responses to these questions.

“Generally, people realize we aren’t all singing from the same page of the hymnal,” he said. “That’s why this project is in place.”

People feel more ownership when they are included in the community action process.

Elected officials were criticized in the survey comments.

Grant said a citizen workshop explaining how to run for local office could help those residents not happy with the current leadership.

“Maybe we can be proactive and encourage people to run for office,” he said. “It’s a great learning experience to be an elected official.”

Raising the new leaders of Baldwin County is another goal of the community plan.

“That’s one of the good things about this task force is we do have a lot of young folks that are involved,” Grant said. “We’ve got to get them ready.”

The notion of a Baldwin County racial divide was a close second to jobs in critical comment area.

“It’s the gorilla in the room,” Grant said. “We’ve got to solve that problem if we are to ever reach our potential.”

Upcoming minority and college student-based focus groups will add to this planning information pool to find out what Milledgeville should look like in the next 10 years.

“We’ve had some hard times,” Grant said. “We still have things that most communities would die to have. We’ve got to talk positive and be forward thinking rather than looking back and thinking about the good ol’ days. Collaboration is our key to success. The blueprint for the future is right here.”

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