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Mary Beth Bass — Homegrown Strategy: One community. One future. One Sumter

Last week, as a community, we were treated to a unique opportunity — we were told the stark truth about our state of affairs in Sumter County. Some responded in shock, others were angered, and still others saw it as a call to action. Georgia Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Chris Clark joined our own local Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, membership and business leaders to share the Rural Georgia Outlook from the Georgia Chamber’s Georgia 2030 campaign.  The snapshot for Sumter County was striking:

Despite the data and its implications, the take-away message was a rallying cry for engagement. As a community, we cannot accept the status quo as our future growth strategy — as the data suggests, to do so would simply be a strategy for decline, population loss, job loss and plummeting income levels. Our “state of community,” will no longer feel like community; it will feel like an exodus.
However, our fate is not sealed. The leadership of the business community can leverage their influence and expertise with the public sector’s responsibility to maintain and improve our quality of life throughout Sumter County to change our numbers, to re-chart our course for growth, and economic vitality. Each business partner must be involved in establishing and implementing that strategy. One of our greatest assets is the strategy and the mechanism that already exists, built upon the leadership of the business community — One Sumter. We simply must use it and not abandon the call to arms.
Likely, as you read this, one of two things are going through your mind: 1) What is One Sumter? Or, 2) I know what One Sumter is, but what have they been doing the last 18 months? What have they accomplished?
As the executive director of One Sumter, I am happy to have the opportunity to share the activities that have resulted from their investment — and the opportunity for everyone to get involved with changing the fate that lies before us if we don’t take action. Over the next several months through this column, I will provide insights as to the activities of One Sumter, the efforts we are trying to undertake, and how the community can support those efforts and actively engage. I hope, too, to be able to share inspirations and best practices from other communities around Georgia that might offer solutions to shared challenges we face here in Sumter County.
Clark’s remarks last week hailed the need to focus on the “traditional” scope of economic development (job creation, industrial growth, small business development, tourism, etc.) as well as the “softer side,” of community economic development, i.e., the often-touted “quality of life.” The difference in Clark’s delivery was that his definition of quality life went beyond downtown development, quality education institutions and housing. He emphasized the need for communities to now take on the dual-strategy of focusing on talent development, poverty, race relationships, cultural diversity, healthcare, broadband infrastructure and connectivity, transportation, senior housing, adult and childhood literacy, and workforce development.
One Sumter’s Business Action Plan focuses on four key priority areas, which mirror much of the strategy that Clark identified as important for rural community growth:  1) Economic Development, 2) Workforce Development, 3) Marketing & Communication, and 4) Transportation.
As a community, we’ve been at work implementing this strategy over the last 18 months. While much has been accomplished, there is much work to be done to turn the ship of the declining trends Clark shared as the hallmarks of our future if we do not continue to commit to driving that change.  We hope you will join us in implementing this strategy as you learn more about our efforts and the need for action. I look forward to sharing our story with you and building our future together.  With a passionate commitment to turning the tide, we can truly create a world-renowned culture of, “One community. One future. One Sumter.”

Mary Beth Bass is executive director of One Sumter Foundation. Contact her at 229-924-3042.