Bryan County officials hosted a public forum Monday night where the Economic Diversification of Bryan County study was presented.
Joy Wilkins, the manager of community innovation services at Georgia Tech, where the study was conducted, presented the findings, focusing on how Bryan County can best address its needs in regard to economically diversifying the county.
"Where people locate depends on quality of place," Wilkins said. "As globalization continues, so too will enormous challenges of being competitive."
Wilkins presented to an audience of about 20 residents and community leaders a power point presentation highlighting the findings of her group’s study relating to how Bryan County can be competitive economically in the future and how the county can address issues that could negatively impact how it proceeds
County Commissioner Glen Willard said the study is a positive for the county.
"This is a good thing for Bryan County," he said. "It’s something we think we can use as a tool in our planning."
The information for the study was compiled by interviewing 35 "stakeholders" – residents from Bryan County – and from 20 state and regional economic development partners that provide services to Bryan County.
Both groups were asked to name strengths of the county and some of the challenges and threats it faces in regard to economic development.The stakeholders identified the school system, interstate access and the coastal location as the strengths and the lack of jobs, roads and traffic, the north-south divide and water capacity as the main challenges. They named growth management, political divisions and the lack of water and sewer infrastructure as threats that could hold back Bryan County in economic development.
Issues raised by the economic partners mirrored those mentioned by the partners.
Wilkins said looking at the study overall, Bryan County is in a good position for successful economic development.
"Bryan County is one of the few communities with such a positive report card," she said. "I didn’t see any negatives that outweighed the positives."
Of the five key issues identified by the study that the researchers felt were within the ability of the county to address, one was the booming growth that could make the county at risk for disconnected and mismanaged development.
This issue was brought up to Wilkins and her team by both stakeholders and partners, she said.
Wilkins said the best way to prevent patchwork development would be to align plans for the infrastructure of the county with future growth expectations and to prevent tasteless developments that are not part of a larger plan.
Another of the key issues deals with the division of the county caused by Fort Stewart. The study recommended that could be remedied if the two sides of Bryan County partner on issues and focus on similar goals.
Also key is the fact that Bryan County, given it’s position, can be selective with what kind of industry comes into the county, the study said.
"I believe Bryan County is absolutely ripe for economic development opportunities," Wilkins said. "The key is will Bryan County have the community will to set the par for quality development and live by it."
In addition, Wilkins suggests boosting the competitiveness of employers in the county by implementing programs that support all of the county’s businesses
The study also recommended dealing with the issue of an undeveloped workforce by expanding workforce development within the schools and offering more vocational training in the area.
Wilkins, who said her presentation has been given to the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, Development Authority members, Bryan County commissioners and a group representing the school board, said the next step is for the county to focus on one or two things that make the most sense for the county and pursue them.
"Here, if we can focus on one of two things, that’s progress," Wilkins said.
The Economic Diversification of Bryan County study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment and supported by the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center.
The project was conducted for communities that are somewhat dependent on military bases.
Wilkins said statistics show one in 10 residents in Bryan County is associated with the military.