Business & Economy Georgia Impact

Two UGA programs recognized in national competition

UGA students in the PROPEL Rural Student Scholars Program visit Baxley, Georgia, to learn about rural economic issues and help with a service project to beautify the downtown. (Shannah Montgomery)

The awards are for outstanding economic development initiatives

Two University of Georgia programs were recognized recently by a national awards program honoring outstanding economic development initiatives, research or accomplishments.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, was awarded top honors in the Place category at the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) Awards of Excellence for its Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership (PROPEL) program.

The UGA and Truist Community Innovation Initiative, a multifaceted effort to enhance collaborative spaces and develop new programming and support for aspiring entrepreneurs in Athens-Clarke County, was named a finalist in the Innovation category. The two UGA programs were among 16 finalists for the Awards of Excellence. Winners were selected by leaders in higher education and economic development at the annual UEDA Summit, held Oct. 8-10 in Salt Lake City.

The projects were recognized for their economic impact on communities.

PROPEL provides rural communities with resources to support economic and community development strategies. Through the PROPEL model, UGA faculty, staff and students work with government and business leaders and key community stakeholders to identify and execute a long-term vision for the community’s economic future.

PROPEL was named best of the best in UEDA’s Place category, where projects were judged on the diverse ways in which the institution contributed to making attractive, competitive communities.

“PROPEL plays a key role in helping the University of Georgia create economic prosperity for rural communities across the state,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach. “We are honored that PROPEL won an UEDA Award of Excellence, and we will continue to develop new ways to put UGA’s resources to work for the state to improve life for Georgians.”

Keri Orvin, city manager for Baxley, and Greg Wilson, UGA Institute of Government faculty and lead of the PROPEL program, walk through downtown Baxley to discuss upcoming projects. (Shannah Montgomery)

PROPEL was launched in 2022 with help from a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as resources provided by the UGA Foundation. Led by the UGA Institute of Government, PROPEL is a collaborative effort of several PSO units and includes the PROPEL Rural Scholars program, an experiential-learning opportunity for undergraduate students interested in rural Georgia to work alongside a PSO mentor and community leaders on PROPEL projects.

“We’re thrilled to be recognized by our peers for the impact PROPEL is making across Georgia. But, we’re even more thrilled with the real work happening in economic and community development in rural Georgia,” said Greg Wilson, who leads PROPEL for the UGA Institute of Government. “Through PROPEL, Georgia communities are able to access the expertise at UGA and put it to use building their economies.”

With $1.25 million in support from the Truist Foundation and Truist Trusteed Foundations, the Truist Community Innovation Initiative funds entrepreneurial programs at UGA, such as Innovation Bootcamp and a series of monthly events. Innovation Bootcamp is a multiweek, cohort-based program that offers education and mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators. Past cohorts have focused on computer scientists, musicians, women, creatives and entrepreneurs of color, with the latest cohort focusing on entrepreneurs in hospitality.

The initiative is a collaborative effort between two Innovation District units, Innovation Gateway and the Office of Business Engagement. The Truist Community Innovation Initiative was a finalist in UEDA’s Innovation category, where it was judged on its ability to build upon knowledge creation and apply to relevant societal domains.

“We are honored to be recognized by UEDA as a finalist for our innovative community programming and outreach,” said Stacy Stanford, senior director for business engagement and strategy. “The generous gift from Truist paved the way for UGA’s Innovation District to engage with community entrepreneurs and help bring their ideas and businesses to life.”

UEDA brings its members—higher education institutions, private sector businesses and economic development organizations—together to facilitate economic growth and expand economic opportunity in their communities. These projects represent the top university-based economic development initiatives in the country, as judged by their peers.