Business & Economy Georgia Impact

UGA works with Envision Athens on planning

Wesley Chenoweth

Wesley Chenoweth felt alone when he was starting his business.

“As a startup, minority-owned business in Athens, I felt lost,” he said. “I didn’t know where to start or if I’d ever be able to grow my business like the successful ones I saw downtown.”

His company, Grizzly Delivery LLC, specializes in courier delivery, passenger transportation, non-emergency medical transportation and more. Chenoweth’s goal is for Grizzly to be the leading transportation company in Northeast Georgia in the next five years, but to get there, he needed support.

That’s how he found himself at Emergent: Launch and Learn, a training course offered by the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, hosted by Envision Athens.

Envision Athens is a partnership between community and government leaders with the goal of creating a 20-year strategy for community and economic development in Athens-Clarke County. The organization is based on the idea of government and community working together, making comprehensive community planning more insightful, intuitive and inclusive.

“This is essentially the best of institutional capacity and grassroots activism combined,” said Erin Barger, project manager of Envision.

In February, the SBDC, a division of UGA’s Public Service and Outreach, worked with Envision to host a training program for business owners looking to grow their companies and potential owners looking for a starting point. Michael Myers and Bart Njoku-Obi, consultants at the SBDC, instructed upward of 50 participants on subjects from startup mechanics to writing a business plan to cashflow management.

The event was held at the Goodwill Career Center and supported by Athens-Clarke County Housing and Community Development and Economic Development offices, Enlightened Media, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Northeast Georgia Business Alliance.

Myers helped plan the training curriculum.

“Envision had business owners telling them what they’d like to see,” Myers said. “SBDC does training like this all the time across the state. We took the tools and presentations that we have and used them for this specific audience.”

Business owners like Chenoweth benefit from the economic development focus of Envision. Other focuses include — but aren’t limited to — housing, education, social services and the environment.

The organization partners with larger entities like the University of Georgia, with partnership serving as the cornerstone for Envision Athens’ approach.

“The University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County are linked. What is good for Athens-Clarke County is also good for UGA,” Barger said. “Any movement would be remiss to not include such a key stakeholder that is the lead employer in the county and also an institution that we look to for expertise in best practices. UGA leadership is key as we pursue our vision of reaching our full potential in Athens-Clarke County in unity, equity, prosperity and compassion.”

The goals of Envision are aspirational; the committee hopes to improve every aspect of Athens-Clarke County over the next two decades. In the meantime, events like the SBDC training are directly helping citizens like Chenoweth.

“It was like a breath of fresh air to see the networking taking place at the training. Entrepreneurs from all walks of life and industries were together, engaging, encouraging and uplifting each other,” he said. “I left with a feeling of inclusion within my community and a clear path to success for my business.”