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A change is gonna come

AMERICUS — Sam Cooke might have nailed it — even though it might have been a long time in coming, change is, indeed, coming to Sumter County.
However, change cannot occur without vision. A strong word, even a powerful word, vision in its lesser form seems to be everywhere. In today’s world where soundbites and catch phrases dominate the media, we all too often lose the importance of what it means. A community that truly has vision and the fortitude to pursue it, to take the knocks as they come and face the nay-sayers, is a rare thing in our ever-critical society. However, over the last year, Sumter County has risen to the challenge and positioned itself as one of those rare creatures willing to take those risks, work together, and reap the dividends. “One Sumter” is not just an organization — it’s a movement.
Born by the recognition that existing leadership and community partners must work together to do something different to change the fate of Sumter County, the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation Inc. represents not just the over 100 donors and investors that have contributed to the effort, but it represents all of us — all of our futures.
Victor Hugo wrote, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Well, for Sumter County, the time has come — and, the idea is One Sumter. With stagnant-to-declining population projections, higher unemployment rates than our neighbors, significant poverty, a perception of rising crime rates, and challenging statistics for educational attainment — Sumter County unfortunately finds itself in a position that seemed unimaginable 30 years ago. Long-respected as a positional leader in Southwest Georgia, the Sumter County of today lives on its strong reputation of vision, foresight and leadership. However, action must follow to turn around the negative trends that we see all too often not only locally, but across the greater Southwest Georgia region.
It’s about community, yes, but it’s also about collaboration and cooperation. To effectively compete in today’s global environment, Sumter County must position itself as a visionary leader in Southwest Georgia, leveraging the strong history of leadership this community is so fortunate to have, and build new leaders into the 21st Century. One Sumter fosters that vision for growth and competition.
How does it happen? It’s about rising all ships, tackling challenging issues, and not shying away from the things that make us uncomfortable. Tearing each other apart only furthers negative perceptions and hear-say about what we know to be a wonderful place to live, work, go to school, and yes, even to play.  It’s about rebranding, reimagining, and inviting diverse perspectives and voices to weigh in on our community’s future.  The One Sumter Business Action Plan is designed to do that — not only to tackle very technical challenges that are critical to Sumter County’s economic future, but also to address those “softer,” adaptive issues, that make communities great places to live and invest.

The Sumter County Chamber of Commerce hosted a ground breaking ceremony for Golden Gourmet which is soon to open on Industrial Boulevard.

The Sumter County Chamber of Commerce hosted a ground breaking ceremony for Golden Gourmet which is soon to open on Industrial Boulevard.

Strategic Intent: The Action Plan
The positive outcome of all of this transition is that Sumter County is experiencing a rebirth as those who have stayed and invested recognize the importance of leveraging our history of strong leadership to undergird the renaissance of this great community.
Chairman of the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation’s board of directors, Ted McMillan emphasizes the importance of action in order to influence and impact change in Sumter County. He states, “Just talking and wishing will not get it done. We have to change our negative attributes — One Sumter will operate as a catalyst to both identify our weaknesses and to push for correction.”
Citing “stubborn tenacity,” as critical for Sumter County’s economic success, McMillan sees hope for progress and change.  “We can be in the list of those communities who provide a place for our children to work and raise their families, or without action, we can be on the list of communities that are being left behind.”
The One Sumter Action Plan represents a bold and robust strategy to enhance the economic development efforts of Sumter County. With four key priority areas: 1) Economic Development, 2) Workforce Development, 3) Marketing & Communications, and 4) Transportation; the Action Plan reflects a specific and intentional approach to leverage private funding with traditional, public sector resources to achieve greater economic impact over five years than any of these entities could accomplish alone. Representing some $2.2 million in pledged funding over the five-year timeframe, One Sumter is truly unique its approach to community and economic development.
A snapshot of the Business Action Plan is detailed below.

Collaborative Action: The Partners
In order to achieve true success for One Sumter, almost nothing can be attributed to One Sumter alone, says new Executive Director Mary Beth Bass. An initiative developed through foresight and planning on behalf of the Sumter County Payroll Development Authority and the Chamber of Commerce, the investment in One Sumter signals a rallying cry from the business community for engagement and change.
Bass describes the strategic intent behind the program.
“The magic of the vision of One Sumter begins to happen when you look comprehensively across the community at what is transpiring county-wide: the integration of plans, goals, objectives and deliverables are woven into each organization’s strategic goals and work plans. The University of Georgia’s Archway Partnership program of work is designed to enhance and support strategic goals mirrored in One Sumter, which also reflects the priorities and recommendations seen through the GeorgiaLEADS process. In turn, these organizations strive to support the recommendations from the recent Renaissance Strategic Visioning Plan (RSVP), and the City of Americus’ new approach to downtown development and tourism.”
Bass continues, “Strong business organizations, such as the Chamber, have a role to play as well. The outcomes from their strategic planning process also support larger community priorities such as enhanced Town and Gown relationships, workforce and leadership training, special event programming, etc. As our educational partners at Georgia Southwestern State University, South Georgia Technical College, Sumter County Schools and Southland Academy come online with new leadership and strategic goals, the integration of the One Sumter vision and concept serves as a driver and partner for the entire community.”
In other words, strategic intent drives the heart of everything Sumter County, as a community, has worked towards over the last 18 months.

Sumter County Payroll Development Authority
Barbara Grogan, executive director of the Sumter County Payroll Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce, echoes those sentiments. “Change does not happen in silos or accidentally, it takes thoughtful planning across years, organizations and individuals,” Grogan says. “It’s an investment in our future, and one we believe will pay untold dividends in the months and years to come.”
As partners across the community embrace this concept of cooperation and collaboration, the Payroll Development Authority (PDA) announces new programming to increase communication and awareness across business, industry, workforce, education, and public sector entities such as the cities and county.
PDA Chairman Paul Haul outlines a new recognition for Sumter County industries to be launched in April of this year. Hall states, “To mirror the recognition bestowed during Georgia’s Manufacturers Appreciation Week each year by the Technical College System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the PDA is proud to honor our local manufacturers at the Sumter County Manufacturers Reception in April.” Scheduled for April 19, the event will not only recognize local manufacturers, but it will also kick off a series of quarterly industry tours throughout Sumter County.
Hall continues, “We will begin hosting quarterly industry tours to aid the connectivity of industry and key community partners. Through the brokering of networks and opportunities, the workforce providers, infrastructure providers, and community providers will walk hand in hand with industry as it evolves. The tours will give us the opportunity for Dr. Walters as the school superintendent to talk directly with the leadership at Austin Urethane, for example, as well as other businesses, gaining in-depth understanding of the workforce their companies need. There is an array of manufacturers in Sumter County, and we want to be proactive in assisting their growth.”
Wither over 55 industry sectors and 350 identified skilled labor occupations, Sumter County’s industrial base has much to celebrate and promote. Making sure that higher educational institutions, K-12 systems, and business and industry leaders are in lock-step about current and future needs, continues to be a priority of both the PDA and One Sumter. Grogan stresses the importance of workforce skills development to ensure success. “We are a diverse community when it comes to producing products, and as we build a pipeline of leaders and workers, we want to ensure the diverse skill sets are available. As we move forward in 2016, the Payroll Development Authority will focus on our industries, ensuring the services and products produced in Sumter County are as well known locally as they are throughout the state and beyond.”

Sumter County Chamber of Commerce
The Sumter County Chamber of Commerce also anticipates change and collaboration to be essential for their growth in the year to come. Newly-inducted chairman, Jay Roberts, announced a new platform of “Engaged Business, Thriving Community,” at the 96th Annual Meeting of the Chamber of Commerce earlier this month. With a mission to “provide opportunities and support for the growth and prosperity of local business and industry,” the Chamber believes that an engaged business community is critical for Sumter County’s growth and vitality.
Through their recent participation in the GeorgiaLEADS initiative to build and develop authentic leadership pipelines to respond to community needs, the Chamber in many respects is already ahead of the trend. A pilot program of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia, Sumter County was selected as one of nine communities statewide to participate in the year-long leadership planning and assessment process.
“Over the past year alone, well over 100 community stakeholders committed over 400 volunteer hours to focus on various portions of our community’s strategy,” Grogan said. “The strategic intent of growing and expanding the community, with deliberate focus on leadership development, brings many voices to the table, providing endless possibilities for Sumter County.”
The Chamber, through the LEADS process, invited community members of all ages, particularly students from the two higher education institutions — Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College — young professionals, and the minority business community who gave voice to a desire to engage and serve. Impact, relevance and change were common themes discussed across all groups. Through that discussion, the Chamber hopes to have begun to lay the foundations for a robust leadership pipeline that can begin to make strategic impacts for positive growth from all aspects of our community and across all organizations.
Roberts is excited about the year to come. “I believe that we have exciting things in front of us as a business community. We have a great team in place. With visionary leadership, sense of purpose, and a renewed energy to work together, Sumter County has a bright future ahead of it.”
As the work continues to unfold, more opportunities to get involved in shaping Sumter County’s future will be announced.  With so much ahead, McMillan emphasizes the importance of continuing to stay engaged. “One Sumter needs the help and commitment of everyone in this community,” he said. “For those who have yet to get involved, we say come join in; we want your help. We all benefit. It really is ‘One community. One future. One Sumter.’”

How to get involved
For more information about the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, contact Executive Director Mary Beth Bass at marybeth@onesumter.org; or at 22-924-3042.  Visit One Sumter online at www.onesumter.org

Further information about the Sumter County Payroll Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce can be found online at www.sumtercountychamber.com. Contact Executive Director Barbara Grogan at 229-924-2646, or at bgrogan@sumtercountychamber.com