Consider it a community brainstorming session. Think of it as a think tank. Or just call it what it is, the second annual Bryan County Community Wide Strategic Planning Retreat, a two-day affair that gets under way Tuesday morning at the Richmond Hill City Center.
Among the more than 90 people invited to attend are elected and appointed government officials, business leaders and others. Organizers say nearly 60 have already agreed to participate — up from the 26 who took part in the first retreat.
Next week’s event will build on discussions held at the first retreat, according to Coastal Electric Membership Cooperative’s Mark Bolton.
Coastal EMC, Richmond Hill and Bryan County are sponsoring the event, which Bolton called, “a continuation of the county’s first retreat held in 2010,” he said in an email.
“By involving all of the leadership groups from within the county we hope to help build consensus among the groups, open lines of communication, learn what each organization is facing and make plans for Bryan County as a whole.”
Bolton said the idea is to get leaders away from the daily grind and thinking about the issues facing Bryan County.
“For two days, the retreat separates the participants from their daily work activities and tries to bring the group together for a ‘think tank’ experience where innovative ideas and viewpoints can be put onto the table and, by the end of the session, drafted into an action plan for the county,” he wrote.
Among those who attended the first retreat was Bryan County School Board Chairman Eddie Warren. He said he intends to participate again.
“I think it’s very important to get direction and share information,” he said, noting the first planning retreat went well. “It was very good. The only issue I had was there was no follow up. It’s something we need to do on an annual basis, or a biannual basis —whatever it takes — because when we get together and set these goals we have to follow up on them otherwise they may or may not get accomplished.”
Still, Warren seems a fan of the retreat and what it can accomplish.
“It’s very good for all the county entities to get together to share information,” he said. “We can share needs, share wants and share how we can help each other get to the next level. I think that’s why this is important. That’s going to be a very good thing.”
Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said there were plans to continue the retreat on an annual basis, but those fell by the wayside.
Despite that, Burnsed said the first retreat resulted in concrete achievements, and a written summary of the 2010 retreat provided by Coastal EMC shows a number of priorities raised then are either done deals or closer to completion now — among them road improvements, expanded water and sewer service, the opening of the new Richmond Hill Middle School and the school board’s central office at the old Black Creek School, the annexation of the Belfast Commerce Centre and the coming I-95 interchange at Belfast Siding.
Other priorities raised in 2010 included Pembroke’s expansion of its downtown park, renovation of the Tos Theater and addition of a third well. The widening of 144, getting passage of the TSPLOST — which passed in Bryan County but was voted down in the region — merging government services where possible and improving recreation were also among the priorities listed by local government and business groups.
In all, dozens of ideas were bounced around at the first retreat as groups ranging from the Bryan County Development Authority to the Pembroke Downtown Development Authority shared goals.
“It is encouraging to see that many of the issues raised from the November 2010 retreat have been followed and implemented already,” Bolton said. “We are also very pleased to have strong participation from Maj. Gen. Mike Murray and the senior leadership at Fort Stewart, many of who live in Bryan County.”
Read more in the Sept. 21 edition of the News.