VALDOSTA -- Part of the 2030 Greater Lowndes Comprehensive Plan focuses on economic development and housing issues, and explores how investments can make cities and communities more stable.

The initial commenting period on the Plan's draft is under way, and all persons in the Greater Lowndes area are highly encouraged to make their opinions known to the planning staff at the South Georgia Regional Development Center.

Anne-Marie Wolff, comprehensive planner with the RDC, said the state requires communities to develop a comprehensive plan and rewards those who take extra time tailoring the plan to reflect individual and community needs with additional funding capabilities.

The county's current comprehensive plan has not officially been updated since 1991.

"We use the state's goals and objectives as a foundation for our local goals and objectives, and if necessary, tweak them to our communities' unique issues and opportunities," Wolff said.

Statewide planning goals from the Georgia State Department of Community Affairs set the following guidelines for economic development: "To achieve a growing and balanced economy, consistent with the prudent management of the state's resources that equitably benefits all segments of the population."

Localized assessments tailor that depiction to individual needs, focusing on encouraging a diverse job base and implementation of higher-wage jobs.

The Community Assessment portion of the Plan states communities "...should identify and put in place the prerequisites for the type of growth it seeks to achieve."

"The businesses and industries encouraged to develop or expand in a community should be suitable for the community in terms of job skills required, long-term sustainability, linkages to other economic activities in the region, impact on the resources of the area, and future prospects for expansion and creation of higher-skill job opportunities."

Myrna Ballard, president of the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber actively works to attract industries that will retain college and university graduates who leave Valdosta in search of better-paying jobs.

Ballard said Valdostans need to be concerned over the decline of state wage rankings.

In 1990, Lowndes County ranked 52nd out of 159 Georgia counties in average weekly wages.

The county dropped to 91st in 2003, according to the Georgia Department of Labor's Employment and Wages 2003 averages.

"We're creating a lot of jobs," Ballard said. "But we need to focus on the economic development of jobs."

The Chamber did a business expansion study that focused on industries with a high growth potential, likely to succeed in the area and attract college graduates.

Ballard said the study incorporated frequently pursued degrees from Valdosta State University and local technical colleges.

Results listed the fields of technology, environmental technology, and medical and diagnostic labs as highly probable to succeed.

"We need to look at increasing the weekly wage and building jobs to keep university graduates here," Ballard said.

Valdosta's earned metropolitan status won't necessarily guarantee bigger business popping up though, Ballard said.

"Big retailers are getting higher average weekly wages," Ballard said. "We have a critical mass of people, but what holds (Valdosta) back is retailers looking at the average weekly wages."

Wolff said relations between economic opportunities and workforce are interrelated.

"If there isn't an adequate workforce, we won't get good companies," Wolff said. "But if there's not good companies, our adequate work force will go elsewhere for jobs."

Other options the Plan explores is implementing an upscale office park, or "headquarters" for scattered office buildings, a motion Wolff said needs further input from stakeholders.

Another element the Plan explores is looking at housing objectives: "A range of housing size, cost and density should be provided in each community to make it possible for all who work in the community to also live in the community (thereby reducing commuting distances), to promote a mixture of income and age groups in each community, and to provide a range of housing choice to meet market needs."

Further assessment looks at cost of living in conjunction to economic wages with housing opportunities.

Mara Register, community development director for the city of Valdosta, said the city developed programs to eliminate sub-standard housing by the year 2020.

In July, more than 400 teenagers from across the United States helped repair 50 homes in the south-central Valdosta area as part of the 2005 Southern Hospitality Group Workcamp program.

During the July event, Register said she hoped area churches would adopt the program and continue restoration throughout the year.

Register said the community development department has worked with RDC planners to label these communities as "redeveloping character areas."

Valdosta's designation as a "Dream City" by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs allows financial assistance for moderate income first-time homebuyers.

"I think it's important to provide affordable housing through all sectors in the community," Register said.

Wolff said the RDC needs community input to complete housing projections.

"This is something we'll definitely need to work in conjunction with the residents, the home builders and the local governments," Wolff said.

To view Comprehensive Plan documents or make a comment on the item, visit the South Georgia Regional Development Center's Web site at www.sgrdc.com/GLPC/GLPC.htm and follow links to the 2030 Plan.

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