Chamber: Economic development a new game

Submitted photo from left to riggt: Trey Taylor (Taylor Insurance Services), Marty LeFiles (LeFiles Valenti Financial Advisors, LLC) and Andrea Schruijer (Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority) at September 26 Chamber Community Council luncheon.

VALDOSTA – Economic development isn’t what it used to be. 

Twenty years ago, economic development almost exclusively meant recruiting manufacturing plants, according to a Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce. Today it’s about existing industry expansion, retail recruitment, target industry development, making it possible for a medical school to locate in South Georgia – and recruiting manufacturing, processing and distribution facilities.

“Because economic development is so diverse these days, so much of economic development needs to be a team sport,” said Andrea Schruijer, executive director at Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority. “We work with our existing industries, we work to bring new industries and then we all work to bring capital investment and job creation to our communities.”

Schruijer recently spoke at the Chamber Community Council, a quarterly meeting including the community business, government and education leaders, to discuss some of the most important economic development issues and opportunities facing the Valdosta community. 

Schruijer discussed how the world is changing, and so is economic development.

Schruijer has 10 years of economic development experience under her belt and on Sept. 22 she was elected to be the secretary-treasurer of the Georgia Economic Developers Association.

Throughout her presentation, Schruijer stressed the importance of existing industries in a community. She said she believes the community should dedicate more focus to existing companies and their expansion. 

“About 60 or 65 percent of jobs in a community comes from your existing industries,” she said.

In order to keep existing industries thriving and competing against new and developing companies, the Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority works with and urges industries to diversify products and markets to be able to weather economic recessions, according to the chamber press release.

Recently, the Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority was awarded, along with three other Georgia companies, the Top 25 Economic Development Award. The award is based on digital economic development and is presented by the Community Systems Company. It is presented to 400 economic development organizations based on how they use digital technology to enhance growth within businesses in their community.

The September meeting of the Chamber Community Council also featured an update on the chamber’s small business incubator project. 

Marty LeFiles, who serves as vice chairman of the Incubator Task Force, said a location for the incubator has been identified in Downtown Valdosta. The next step is application to the Economic Development Administration for funding to purchase and remodel the facility.

Trey Taylor, president of Taylor Insurance Services, introduced the Chamber Spectrum Insurance Program to the group, noting the association health insurance plan can be a solution to what many consider to be the number one problem facing small to mid-size businesses – affordable health insurance for employees. Designed for chamber members only, the program treats members as one large group, often providing a more affordable option for members with four or more employees, according to the chamber.

The fourth quarter Chamber Community Council meeting will feature a presentation from Kimberly Hobbs and Lauren Sandbach with the Southern Georgia Regional Commission. SGRC has just adopted a new comprehensive economic development strategy for the region which will be shared with council members in December, according to the chamber.

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