Business & Economy Georgia Impact

UGA grows economy, promotes prosperity in rural Georgia

This is the first in a series of stories about UGA and economic development throughout Georgia.

In 2005, Colquitt County was experiencing growing pains.

Sanderson Farms had announced plans to build a chicken processing plant in the south Georgia community, bringing 1,400 jobs to the area. While the new plant was welcome, it presented challenges. The county had limited sewer capacity, few housing options and no round-the-clock child care, a necessity for parents working overnight shifts.

At the same time, faculty in the University of Georgia’s Public Service and Outreach office and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences were discussing a new program designed to link the resources of the university to the economic development needs of the state. The program would be based on the Cooperative Extension model, with UGA employees stationed in Georgia communities to help address economic development issues.

The new program was named the Archway Partnership, and Colquitt County proved to be the ideal place for a pilot. An Archway Partnership professional was hired to live in Colquitt County and began meeting with local residents to help them reach consensus on their priorities and address the most critical issues.

Over the next few years, a steady stream of UGA faculty and students flowed through Colquitt County:

— The Carl Vinson Institute of Government worked with county government to find the most cost-efficient way to increase its wastewater treatment plant.

— The College of Environment and Design created landscaping and entry signs for the new business park that would include Sanderson Farms.

— A faculty member from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, who already was researching child care needs in urban versus rural counties, made Colquitt her rural focus, and shared her findings and suggestions with the county.

— The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development launched leadership programs to help build a pipeline that would keep Colquitt moving forward once it was no longer an Archway community.

— Faculty from Fanning developed a leadership curriculum that is being used in K-8 grades in the county’s public schools.

“We have land-use plans in Colquitt County largely because of early help from our first Archway professional,” said Roy Reeves, chair of the Colquitt County Archway Partnership executive committee. “I drive by our wastewater treatment plant, and it’s operational in large part due to help, interaction and input from UGA. I drive by Main Street Park knowing the preliminary drawings for that were done by a UGA student. I drive by Citizens Business Park, where Sanderson Farms is located, and the signage on the outside was done by a UGA student.”

“Before Archway, when a community issue or opportunity came up we didn’t necessarily think about how could UGA help us. Since Archway, a lot of times that’s one of the first thoughts we have.”

An impact analysis completed earlier this year shows that since the Archway Partnership began in 2005, Colquitt County has realized an additional $226.9 million in economic activity.

Among the improvements:

— The high school graduation rate rose from 59.7 percent in 2007 to nearly 86 percent in 2015.        

— Commercial and industrial property values increased by 3.5 percent, and residential property values increased by 3.6 percent, between 2005 and 2015.

— Property tax revenue rose from $8.9 million in 2005 to $16 million in 2015, while millage rates remained virtually unchanged.

Throughout the state, many rural communities are surviving and even thriving thanks to the University of Georgia, the state’s flagship university. The Archway Partnership is just one of many programs through which UGA helps Georgia’s citizens realize a positive quality of life.

UGA outreach programs have an annual $587 million impact on the state, creating jobs, developing leaders and addressing critical community issues.

“The University of Georgia is focused, every day, on finding ways to leverage its vast resources to support the citizens of this great state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Many residents of Georgia have never visited one of UGA’s campuses, but there is a good chance they know about the state’s flagship institution from the positive impact it has made on their communities.”

On any given day more than 450 faculty and staff from UGA Public Service and Outreach units and about 1,000 from UGA Cooperative Extension are spread throughout Georgia:

— conducting assessments for rural hospitals so that they can continue to receive federal funding to operate;

— helping economic development professionals learn the skill sets they need to attract new industry to Georgia;

— working alongside fishermen to help diversify the state’s coastal economy;

— growing leaders who can take their communities to the next level; and

— providing the business tools to farmers so they can succeed in an increasingly competitive market.

Supporting small business, developing community leaders, training government officials, using all known resources to promote economic vitality throughout the state — that’s the role of the land- and sea-grant institution, said Laura Meadows, interim vice president for public service and outreach.

“Using our vast knowledge to make Georgia a better place to live and work is our key mission,” Meadows said. “That’s our commitment.”