Sumter County Chamber of Commerce holds legislative luncheon in Plains

Published 3:26 pm Friday, May 12, 2023

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PLAINS, GA – On Thursday, May 11, approximately 60 people, including local politicians, law enforcement officials, educators and local business owners gathered at the Plains Community Center in Plains, GA for the annual legislative luncheon hosted by the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce.

Among the speakers at the event were State Senator Freddie Powell Sims, State Senator Cardin Summers, State Representative Mike Cheokas and Dale Sandlin, Executive Vice President of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association.

Mrs. Powell-Sims talked about the importance of economic development in Southwest Georgia and mentioned the ways for an area or a community to have good economic development.

“Every day, we should think about how we are going to grow Southwest Georgia,” Sims said. “Do we want all of Southwest Georgia to have four lane roads and towering buildings? No. We want peace and calm too, but we still have to maintain some semblance of developments and it becomes our job to do this.”

She went on to say that economic development continues to be a top priority, especially for those who live in rural Georgia. “Most citizens have deep, abiding beliefs that economic development is a one dimensional process that is best handled by government officials only,” Sims said. “Government officials do play a valued, strategic role in making economic growth happen, but community citizens also have economic possibilities that they’ve probably never thought of.”

Sims went on to say that most municipalities have capable economic leaders, but added that there are several major categories that define what is actually needed to grow economies, looking for new locations or expansions. Sims talked about having an educated work force as an essential tool for economic growth in a community, which means that the community must have good schools, K-12 and post-secondary institutions. She also mentioned that communities must be stable to affordable living expenses. “We need to have immediate access to affordable healthcare, rap around services for anyone in need and sufficient income levels,” Sims said. She went on to say that communities won’t survive if livable wages are not provided for individuals.

Another thing that Sims talked about was the fact that there are “economic scouts”, or “secret Shoppers”, that are visiting a community in covert disguises to see whether or not this is the place to locate or relocate their business and that they can gauge whether or not to locate or relocate there by listening to the local chatter and the attitudes of the citizens concerning that particular community. “If they hear a lot of negative, what do you think they are going to do? Do they want to come and bring business to your community? No,” She said.

“They disguise themselves. They want to find out what the community is all about and what the locals have to say about revealing who they are,” Sims said. “Their visits are usually unknown to shop keepers, local and state officials, community leaders and others.” She went on to say that economic scouts look for subtle things, such as customer service. She used Chick Fillet as an example of friendly customer service and stated that when she drives through a McDonalds, she wants the experience to be like driving through a Chick Fillet.

“Customer service is the protocol that highlights businesses’ ability to make clients feel welcomed, to make them feel confortable and absolutely special,” Sims said. “Economic growth and development depend heavily upon customer satisfaction.”

She went on to say that most communities are divided between the haves and the have nots, the ones that want to plan and the ones that won’t plan and don’t care at all about growing. On the other hand, she added that if one wants to see successful cities and municipalities, one will see strong partnerships. “Regardless to who might start, when they sit down at the table to plan for the future of these areas, there has to be partnership. There has to be buy in,” Sims said. “It can’t be, ‘I don’t want this because my granddaddy didn’t want it and now, we don’t want it’. You can’t stand in the way of the things that are reasonable and a lot of times, we do that.”

Sims also stated that economic scouts look for inviting and clean communities in which to locate or relocate their businesses. She used the town of Baconton, GA as an example of how clean the community must be, how immaculately the grass has been cut and so forth.

State Senator Carden Summers speaks at a legislative luncheon in Plains put on by the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

In his speech to the group gathered at the luncheon, State Senator Carden Summers stated that Southwest Georgia does not have the “clout” that other parts of the state have, such as the Atlanta Metro Area. “Basically below Macon, there are six senators in Georgia,” Summers said. “We have 56 senators. That means there are six of us south of Macon. All of the voting clout is in Atlanta and North Georgia.” Summers went on to say that he and Senator Powell-Sims now represent over 200,000 people in their various districts. He added that his district goes from Lee County to Coffee County and that it can take as much as two hours to go across his district.

He also added that the improvement of infrastructure should be a high priority in South Georgia and that counties need the money to provide water and sewer systems for their citizens. “We’ve got to get water and sewers in these areas because most people don’t want to have a two or three acre piece of property to build a small house on just so you can have a well or septic tank,” Summers said. He went on to emphasize the point that it does no good to have all of the land in South Georgia, but not have the infrastructure to support it, specifically water and sewer. Bottom line, Summers was trying to make the point that the infrastructure in South Georgia needs to improve, especially in the areas of water and sewer. He added that Georgia has been the number one state to do business in for the past nine years in a row and that these things, such as having good infrastructure, are key to having businesses come to South Georgia. He also mentioned that many of the plants that are being built in Georgia are being built in the Atlanta area, North Georgia and East Georgia, but not in South Georgia.

In addition to having good infrastructure, Summers stated that there must be good education as well. He stated that if people want companies like Kia to relocate to Sumter County, then the local education system has to improve. He added that more tech schools are needed for people to learn how to be welders and mechanics and that getting an education at a traditional four year college is not for everybody.

In addition to the aforementioned subjects, Summers talked about the fact that there are many homeless people in Sumter County and he stated that they all need to be taken off the streets and put into a safe environment where they can get the help that they need and not be out on the streets. He stated that millions of dollars come into the state of Georgia, but no one knows where that money goes. “That money is not going to the homeless people. It’s going to other people,” Summers said. He stated that he passed a homeless bill that states that cities and counties must remove the homeless from the streets and get them to safe environments where they can get the help they need. In the bill that he passed, it also says that county officials cannot take a homeless person to another county and drop them off there. He emphasized that no one is trying to arrest homeless people, but instead get them to safe areas where they can get help.

Summers also sponsored the Trans-Gender Bill, which states that no one can take hormones to physically change their body until you are 18 years old. “You cannot have any gender surgeries period until you are 18 years old,” Summers said.

In a somewhat related issue, Summers also talked about the Gender Bill, which states that anybody in charge of a child, church, camp, private school, public school, etc. cannot discuss gender with that child without a parent or guardian’s written permission.

State Representative Mike Cheokas speaks to a group at a legislative luncheon put on by the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

In his speech at the luncheon, State Representative Mike Cheokas stated that in addition to Georgia being the number one state in the country to do business in, he wants Georgia to also be the number one state in the nation for small businesses as well. “As Senator Sims said earlier, we have to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps and we have to be good stewards of our community, but we also have to be good at what we do,” Cheokas said. He went on to say that he serves on the Health and Human Services Committee, as well as the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, a committee that helps with funding for Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College. Cheokas went on to say that he also serves on the K-12 Committee, but added that one of his favorite committees to serve on is one involving Creative Arts, which involves the film industry. “We are the number one state in the nation for feature films,” Cheokas said. He went on to say that he took his granddaughter to see one of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, which was filmed in Peachtree City, GA.

As far as what his district consists of, Cheokas stated that his district is now made up of the counties of Sumter, Schley, Marion, Chattahoochee, Stewart, Webster, Terrell and part of Dougherty. “My district literally stretches from Victory Dr. (Columbus) to Doublegate Country Club (Albany),” Cheokas said. He added that from east to west, his district runs from the Flint River to the Chattahoochee River.

He added that he was able to get $5 million dollars allocated to Georgia Southwestern State University for the renovation of the James Earl Carter Library. “I can’t think of any wiser, better way to invest state funding than in education,” Cheokas said. He also stated that he has recommended that the starting salary for local and state law enforcement officers be $50,000 a year.

Dale Sandlin, Executive Vice President of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, speaks to a group at a luncheon put on by the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

In his speech to the group, Dale Sandlin, Executive Vice President of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, stated that Agricultural is the only business in the world in which you by your inputs at retail and you sell your product at wholesale. He added that one of the things that needs to be done more in Georgia is to improve and support funding for agricultural research. He stated that being that the population keeps growing, there needs to be more agricultural research to help meet the demands of the growing population. He also talked about the importance of coming up with money for a vaccine for diseases such as hoof and mouth and mouth disease, which can cripple the cattle industry.

In a later interview with the Americus Times-Recorder, Sandlin stated that processing and meat cutting jobs are going to be very good jobs in the state of Georgia.