Valdosta Daily Times

February 7, 2013

Shaping the Future

Valdosta-Lowndes leaders discuss SPLOST, Moody, broadband

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Community and business leaders from across Lowndes County met for a development and cooperation conference at Valdosta State University Wednesday afternoon to build confidence in one another and share priorities and concerns.

Leaders from Lowndes County, the Cities of Valdosta, Hahira, Lake Park, and Remerton, South Georgia Medical Center, Valdosta State University, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Tourism Authority, Georgia Power, Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation, Lowndes County and Valdosta City schools, and the real estate and small business communities attended.

The leaders sat at a round table in the meeting room on the second floor of the VSU Oak Street parking garage. Valdosta Mayor John Gayle and County

Chairman Bill Slaughter led the meeting.

Slaughter made it clear that communication among the leadership of various entities in the county is key to achieving common goals, and Gayle took notes to keep a list of priorities discussed in the meeting.

Marketing the seventh cycle of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to help it pass this November seemed to be the top priority, as making immediate plans for this campaign is time-sensitive.

“We realize how important it is, and we will get on it in 24 to 48 hours,” Gayle said.

Broadband Internet availability across the county was also mentioned as a high priority. Strong Internet infrastructure will help market Valdosta as a development destination, according to the Industrial Authority; aid the educational needs of students living in the county, according to Lowndes Schools; and help governments keep in touch with each other, according to the City of Valdosta.

Broadband infrastructure could take two to three years to develop, Slaughter said.

The development of gateways into the Valdosta community were also mentioned at the meeting, since touring developers get a strong first impression of Valdosta and the county at entryways into town.

The Chamber of Commerce mentioned the preservation of Moody Air Force Base from Base Realignment and Closure issues due to encroachment; chamber representatives said the county and its municipalities should realize the base’s importance to the local economy as well as the impact its closure would have.

“We don’t need to wait for a crisis to act,” Chamber Chairman Jay Prince said.

Wiregrass Georgia President Dr. Ray Perren said the technical college’s priority is investment in “human infrastructure.” About 20 percent of Lowndes County citizens have not graduated from high school, Perren said, and he would like to see an effort to reach these people.

VSU President Dr. Bill McKinney attempted to summarize the needs of everyone in the room, noticing that many suggestions fell under only a few umbrellas, and pushed the priorities further.

“What these priorities all have in common is economic development and quality of life,” McKinney said. “I would love to have the conversation, ‘What will success look like? Strategically, what do we want to accomplish?’”

Many agreed that the efforts should be divided into “markers” or a list of achievable goals. Gayle stressed the importance of assigning committees to ensure goals and landmarks.

SGMC CEO Randy Sauls mentioned he would like to share information between governments and other entities; being better informed would help make strong development decisions as cooperation efforts move forward.

Realtor Ron Borders asked if Gayle and Slaughter would allow a few days for those in attendance to contemplate their priorities further after the meeting. Gayle acquiesced.

“Within the next two weeks, email us your priorities in order,” Gayle announced to the group. “We’ll look at those, and contact the people we need and have them report to us at the next meeting.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Slaughter said he plans to hold the leadership meetings on a regular basis.

“I think the meeting went very, very well,” Slaughter said. “I hope in two or three years we can look back and see that we have accomplished something.”