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Community leaders converge at planning retreat
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Officials with Bryan County, the Board of Education, the cities of Richmond Hill and Pembroke and many others brainstorm on priorities for Bryan Countys future during a strategic planning retreat Tuesday at the Richmond Hill City Center. - photo by Jeff Whitte

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on issues raised by the countywide planning retreat.

More than 60 community leaders gathered Tuesday for a countywide retreat aimed at finding ways to tackle Bryan County’s biggest issues.
Held at the Richmond Hill City Center, the retreat attracted elected and appointed officials from local governments, the school board, business organizations and beyond.
Sponsored by the Bryan County Board of Commissioners, the city of Richmond Hill and Coastal Electric Membership Cooperation, the retreat — also called a strategic planning conference — was the second of its kind. Another was held in 2010,
Coastal EMC facilitator Pat Merritt worked at the first one as well, and after Tuesday’s work session she applauded those who attended.
“Y’all have come light years since 2010,” she said, noting only 25 attended the first meeting.
“But if you let the (results of the workshop) sit on the shelf, or sit in a file somewhere, then all this is for naught. The real test of whether or not you are successful is the implementation of what we’ve done here today.”
Coastal EMC’s Mark Bolton also was complimentary of the retreat.
“There is a verse in the scripture that says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’” Bolton said in an email. “That verse is so true when applied to our local governments. What we need in Bryan County is a ‘shared vision’ of where we want to be in the short term and in the future.
“A communitywide retreat like we had Tuesday is the essential first step in developing that shared vision.”

Early start
The retreat got under way at 7:30 a.m. at the City Center with a buffet-style breakfast. Work started soon afterward and among those who attended were representatives from Bryan County, Pembroke, Richmond Hill, the Board of Education, the Bryan County Development Authority, Fort Stewart, the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, the North Bryan Chamber of Commerce, the state Department of Transportation, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah Technical College and a number of business leaders.
Before they broke for lunch, retreat participants had outlined various priorities ranging from attracting manufacturing and retail to help diversify Bryan County’s tax base — which is heavily dependent on residential property owners — to establishing a countywide water and sewer authority to help address anticipated limitations on water withdrawals in coming years.
Several issues were discussed at length:
- Housing initiatives and downtown revitalization in Pembroke.
- Infrastructure needs in Richmond Hill ranging from the widening of Highway 144 to addressing the decline of the I-95 exit at Highway 17.
- The need to find funds for road improvements.
- Working with Fort Stewart.
- Promoting local businesses.
- Supporting the schools’ continued need for funding.
- Maintaining the quality of life in Bryan County.

Read more in the Sept. 28 edition of the News.

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