Working together to build a better, stronger community is the main idea local leaders are focusing on while taking part in an economic development pilot program with the Pendleton Consulting Group. The group has met three times since the first meeting in June and things appear to moving along in a positive way. Craig Lesser, a managing partner with Pendleton, stated that he has been very pleased with the progress that has been made and is impressed by the candid nature of the group.
“In each of the meetings we have had, people have been putting everything on the table,” said Lesser. “They have stated what they feel are issues that should be worked on, and everyone, including the elected officials, has vowed to work together towards success.”
Lesser continued, stating he has worked with other communities in the past, but none have seemed as dedicated to working together as Thomaston-Upson County.
“I am convinced that this community is in the process of moving in the right direction. They have had very frank discussions, which are what is needed, and I have nothing but compliments for everyone involved.”
Although, Mr. Lesser isn’t the only one who thinks things are going well, with several of the group members agreeing that everyone seems to be working together for the common good. In order to be more efficient, two sub-committees have been formed; one that deals with partnerships and one that deals with infrastructure.
Jeff Stribling, Plant Director for Quad Graphics, serves as the chair of the partnership committee, which is focusing on identifying opportunities for connections between the industries, schools and businesses in the area. He feels that meetings like this are something that have been needed for a while now and will only open up more possibilities for the community to grow.
Dr. Larry Derico, of the Thomaston-Upson School System, agreed with Stribling and noted that the meetings are able to facilitate discussions about the importance of education in the community.
“I feel that this has been a real eye opener pertaining to education,” said Derico, “in that it has allowed us to share and clarify some of the things going on with the school system because education as a whole is constantly changing. It is helping us to see where we can fit into the big picture of promoting and attracting companies to our area.”
As part of the partnership committee, Derico shared the goals most recently discussed by the group. In addition to raising the test scores and lowering the dropout rate, the first thing they want to do is continue to enhance the secondary and post secondary education partnerships with schools such as Southern Crescent Technical College, Gordon College and the University of Georgia Griffin campus, in hopes of making the transition into higher education as seamless as possible. The next step is to strengthen partnerships with local industries and the Department of Labor to showcase career opportunities which are available. In conjunction with that step, the final goal includes plans to expand the mentoring program to include more businesses and industries, in hopes that they will work with students to provide real world experience and let them know what is out there.
Infrastructure is the focus of the other committee. Chairman David Millen, District Engineer for District Three of the Georgia DOT, stated they are focusing on ways they can help with economic growth for the area. After each of the meetings, the committee members have been given homework to continue brainstorming for anything that pertains to infrastructure.
Some of the goals they have discussed are improving roadways, enhancing the airport terminal for business prospects, maintenance and growth for the school system buildings, ways to fund upgrades of utilities and how to market current structures and vacant properties. They are also branching out to include telecommunications, recreation facilities and future land use plans because it all ties into the big picture when it comes to improving the town.
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold and Upson County Commission Chairman Maurice Raines both feel that working with the Pendleton Group is a great opportunity for the Thomaston-Upson community. However, both know that improving the town is not solely up to those serving as members of this group. Oftentimes, the course of progress is placed upon the shoulders of local governments, but they, along with industries and businesses, are only one part of making this work; moving forward has to be a group effort from each member of the community, no matter what you do for a living.
“This is only the beginning stage of things,” noted Raines. “I, for one, am looking forward to the community embracing the ideas that come from this effort. I am excited to be where we are at this stage and see where we go from here.”