by J. Michael Brewer
On February 18th, over 40 business, civic and government leaders assembled for a one-day community vision summit to have a facilitated discussion about Butts County and its future direction. The event, which was hosted by the Butts County Chamber of Commerce and Partners for Smart Growth, was held at the nearby Georgia FFA Camp in Newton County and sponsored by Central Georgia EMC.
Governmental representatives included Michael Brewer, Roger McDaniel and Keith Moffett with Butts County; Buddy Costley with Butts County Schools; Don Cook, James Morgan, Theodore Patterson, Kay Pippin and Jeanette Riley with the City of Jackson; Claire Jones with the City of Jenkinsburg; Annie Mitchell, Beth Ogletree and Catherine Watson with the City of Flovilla; Laura Sistrunk with the Butts County Development Authority; Marcie Seleb with Butts County Water Authority and Byrd Garland with Butts County Hospital Authority.
Civic organization representatives included Diane Glidewell with the Arts Council; Luke Weaver with the Daughtry Foundation; Sandra Haisten and Ann-Marie Pope with Family Connections; Jean Bonner with the Lions Club; Charles Barlow and Charles McElhaney with the NAACP and Mike Wilson with the Rotary Club.
Local business and community leaders present included Katy Arrowood of the recently established College and Career Academy; Jeff Greeson with Central Georgia EMC; Jim Herbert with Partners for Smart Growth; Bill Jones of Jones Petroleum; Dr. Randy Peters of Southern Crescent Technical College; John Rainwater of United Bank; Bob Ryan of Atlanta South TA Truck Plaza; Beverly Stewart of Beverly’s Daycare; Cheryl Wheeler of Georgia Power/Jackson Lake and Frankie Willis of Trucks, Inc. and the Village at Indian Springs;
The vision summit began as an idea in mid-2015 and was the result of several months worth of planning and meetings with a variety of community representatives that began in the fall last year. A steering committee, chaired by Chamber President/Partners Chairman Joe Westbury and consisting of Michael Brewer, Jeff Greeson, Jim Herbert, Melinda McLarnon and Laura Sistrunk worked with a professional facilitator, Pat Merritt of Georgia EMC, to facilitate the daylong event, with input provided by a broad range of local officials, civic and business leaders.
Prior to the summit, an electronic survey was sent out to a variety of local organizations and individuals, as well as to the public for input. The results of this survey, which were tallied last week, was used to drive the conversation among those participating in the summit about what could we as a community do working together towards developing the most successful future for Butts County. From this survey, the top three most important elements included attracting industrial development; creating jobs, and funding educational initiatives through ESPLOST. Others that ranked below the top three included increasing access to high-speed internet; enhancing downtown development; increasing the high school completion rate and further development of water/sewer infrastructure.
During the first half of the day, participants received a variety of presentations. These included a series of short reports from the County, Cities, School System and Authorities on what their top three priorities for 2016 were. Following this, the participants received employment demographical information from April Truitt of the Georgia Department of Labor, as well as presentations from Katy Arrowood, the new Director of the College and Career Academy for the region and Dr. Randall Peters, President of Southern Crescent Technical College.
During the second half of the day, participants went through a series of facilitated exercises led by Pat Merritt, including envisioning of what Butts County might ideally look like by 2030. The participants were then broken down into teams to compile and compare visions and goals, as well as to begin narrowing a focus on attainable goals, both short and long-term. These were then presented to the overall group for discussion and consensus building. A final summary report will be prepared and published in the weeks ahead and a second meeting to work on carrying out goals will be held in May.
Coming into the vision summit, it was apparent that a spirit of teamwork as well as one of concern and caring for the community was at work. Participants engaged with one another and with the facilitator and the information presented was both timely and realistic. Each individual recognized that there are both challenges to overcome as well as accomplishments that should be promoted and highlighted.
Tourism opportunities, including outdoor recreational venues, location off of Interstate 75 and our proximity to Atlanta and Macon are all advantages that can be marketed. The availability of industrial land that is unique along the interstate corridor, growing our educational opportunities and stable local governments that are and have been working closely together for years all are positive attributes that will continue to help the community reach its goals.
Many thanks to the Chamber of Commerce and Partners for Smart Growth for hosting this event, as well as to Central Georgia EMC and Georgia EMC for sponsoring this event and providing the services of Pat Merritt to facilitate. This is a positive step for our community as a whole and we are grateful to all the local elected and appointed officials, civic leaders, business owners and educators who took time out of their schedules to dedicate a day towards this ongoing envisioning process.