Valdosta State University students are returning to campus this week.

Welcome back.

VSU is a major university with a huge impact on our community.

The university is one of our largest employers and most important recruiting tools for business and industry, a great community partner, an amazing resource for local businesses, community leaders and even government.

Largely because of VSU, Valdosta boasts one of the most robust visual and performing arts communities in the entire region.

International students have brought with them a cultural awareness and diversity rarely seen in a town the size of Valdosta.

Thousands of bright, motivated young people will have the opportunity for a great education at Valdosta State University.

It is an exciting time for these young men and women as they begin their college careers.

We encourage our community — especially our business community — to embrace students as they return to Valdosta.

VSU is a vital economic engine for Valdosta, Lowndes County and South Georgia. Offer student discounts. Host events that make students feel welcome. Place banners and signs welcoming them to the community.

While the educational, economic and cultural benefits of a major university in our community cannot be over estimated, Valdosta should be capitalizing on its presence in even greater ways. Local businesses should, at the very least, look at the VSU student body as thousands of potential customers.

As we have suggested in the past, building bridges between students and our community is crucial, and the incubation of a true college town environment could be a significant economic boon for Valdosta.

We are seeing new events and development in our downtown and we encourage business owners there to do their part to incubate a downtown that is inviting to students.

Offer price points students can afford, create relaxed atmospheres where they can feel comfortable, and perhaps hang a banner welcoming them to the community and to your establishment. If you have a venue, provide music and entertainment that will attract them. It is difficult to imagine that our restaurants and retailers do not need the business.

Once again, we want to say welcome back to campus and welcome to our community.

What is good for VSU and its students is good for Valdosta.

We are glad to have you here.

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