Valdosta-Lowndes Region Announces Selection of VisionFirst Advisors to Develop Community, Economic Development Strategy
Wednesday, February 7th, 2018
A team of community, education, and business leaders from the Valdosta-Lowndes County region announced plans to develop a Community and Economic Development Strategy for the area to be known as One Valdosta-Lowndes.
Partners in the strategy’s development include the City of Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia Power, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority, Valdosta State University, the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, and South Georgia Medical Center.
The strategy will be led by VisionFirst Advisors, an economic development consulting firm that provides services focused on state, regional, and local economic development strategy and location advisory services.
“Collectively we are thrilled to share that One Valdosta-Lowndes will enhance our best kept secret,” said Audrey King, regional director of Georgia Power and One Valdosta-Lowndes co-chairwoman. “We believe that connecting all key players, stakeholders, residents, leaders, and community partners will further advance our communities in the right direction. We aspire to grow our communities, promote our assets, and attract future businesses to an already thriving community. The way in which this will be a success is all members of our communities are represented and actively engaged. We are One Valdosta-Lowndes.”
The purpose of the effort is to develop a multi-faceted and implementable strategy to guide community and economic development over the next 15 years. While Valdosta-Lowndes County is the subject of the strategy, research will expand to include data available of the broader region.
“South Georgia is a wonderful place to call home,” said Dr. Richard A. Carvajal, president of Valdosta State University and One Valdosta-Lowndes co-chairman. “When those with a common vision come together to share history, share ideas, and have open discussions about the future, there are endless possibilities. We know that if we are successful in this work it could be transformative for generations to come.”
Over the course of the next 12 months, VisionFirst Advisors will seek to connect the region’s strengths and initiatives into a cohesive direction that provides opportunities for all citizens. The effort will be led by a steering committee comprised of thoughtful leaders from diverse perspectives.
To build on those diverse perspectives, a foundation of the project process will be the engagement of the community. The steering committee chose VisionFirst Advisors because they go beyond a formulaic economic strategy to listen and learn from residents and community members. The project team will utilize online surveys, field visits, and one-on-one and group meetings to engage broad segments of the community to learn how they see Valdosta-Lowndes County today and how they would like to see it in the future. At the conclusion of the process, the strategy, along with a set of deliverables, will provide a clear course of action, milestones, and a means of knowing when the region has arrived at its destination. The overarching goals, strategies, and tactics will build upon the existing resources and infrastructure to grow jobs, support businesses, and build a collaborative network to expand the region’s economy over the next three years.
“We are excited to be an extension of the Valdosta-Lowndes team over the next year to foster job creation and community prosperity in the area,” said Gray Swoope, president and chief executive officer of VisionFirst Advisors. “It is an ideal time for the development of a strategy that aligns the resources and stakeholders in a manner that takes full advantage of all the opportunities before the community.”
WHAT THE STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS ARE SAYING:
Sam Allen, superintendent emeritus, Valdosta City Schools: “The future of Valdosta City and Lowndes County depends on the vision and plans that are made today. We have all the tools for becoming a great economic engine for the region. It is imperative that we make this plan inclusive in a way that all sections of the community have a say in how they foresee the future of Valdosta-Lowndes. This plan is a living document that will need to be constantly reviewed and changed and should never be considered as the final version of the saga of a community without limits.”
Johnny Ball, assistant administrator, South Georgia Medical Center: “One Valdosta-Lowndes gives us a unique opportunity to develop innovative and dynamic strategies to help steer the future of business and industry in our community. South Georgia Medical Center is honored to be a part of this exciting initiative.”
Myrna Ballard, president, Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce: “In my 20-plus years at the Chamber, there has never been an effort to build a common community vision as comprehensive and inclusive as this undertaking. As a group, we are sincerely committed to building a visionary and ambitious plan for our community. Our Chamber is proud to participate.”
Mark Barber, interim city manager, City of Valdosta: "Ensuring that our community is capitalizing on the exceptional assets that we currently have is just as important as being blessed with those assets. Our community is well-positioned to support economic growth in the future, but planning and strategizing is essential on this journey. I am definitely excited about this process, as it brings all players to the table for open dialogue, coupled with strong community engagement. This is critical to sustaining the vibrancy, relevance, and financial viability of Valdosta and Lowndes County."
C. Ross Berry, chief executive officer, South Georgia Medical Center: “Creating a robust community and economic development strategy is easier when community partners come together around common goals. As one of the community’s largest economic engines, SGMC is happy to join the One Valdosta-Lowndes initiative. Our hospital’s success, over the half-century, has been largely possible because of community support and partnerships. By working collectively as a team, One Valdosta-Lowndes can build upon existing relationships and assets to develop action plans that will strengthen the community and take us on a forward path.”
John Gayle, mayor, City of Valdosta: “While the City of Valdosta has enjoyed economic growth in the past, there are still many issues our community is facing that prohibit us from achieving our future goals for economic development. In order for our community to be successful and for us to enjoy long term economic growth, we must resolve those issues. I look forward to working with our team of community leaders and with Vision First to carry us into the future and truly make Valdosta a City without Limits.”
James McGahee Jr., certified public accountant, immediate past chairman, Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors: “I am excited to be a part of a volunteer group of local organizational leaders and VisionFirst Advisors to design a 10- to 15-year economic growth plan for Valdosta-Lowndes County and the southwest Georgia regional area that will be the focus of economic growth for the predictable future. I believe Valdosta-Lowndes County has the ability to grow the technology jobs, housing, healthcare, social activities, education opportunities, and affordable living that are the necessary growth assets for our community.”
Joseph Pritchard, county manager, Lowndes County: “Organizations, individuals, and communities that are successful must be diligent in continually assessing past successes, available resources, talents, and future demands. Valdosta and Lowndes County are no different. This community has a rich heritage of visionary leaders that helped establish this community by seeking new opportunities and developing capable individuals. Those of us in positions of leadership must build on the established foundations and seek new and efficient means for a brighter future for all our citizens and generations to come. One Valdosta-Lowndes is the next step in the continual process of preparing us for tomorrow.”
Scott Purvis, community and economic development manager, South Region, Georgia Power: “Valdosta and Lowndes County are poised for success. The community has assets in place for community and economic development. The development of an extensive strategy through the One Valdosta-Lowndes initiative and Vision First enables the community to leverage their assets and pursue economic development and job creation as a primary focus.”
Andrea Schruijer, executive director, Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority: “The Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority is proud to be part of this initiative to develop a plan for community and economic growth. Much like private businesses develop strategies for growth, communities must go through a similar process to ensure that we are all working together to create an environment where everyone wants to live, work, and play.”
Bill Slaughter, chairman, Lowndes County Board of Commissioners: “As chairman of the Lowndes County Commission, I am very excited for our community, the citizens, business, industries, and educational institutions. Our community leaders have an opportunity to unite with the goal of identifying needs we must address in order to move our entire community forward over the next five to 10 years. My hope is to recognize and capitalize on the positive things in our community while eliminating those areas holding us back. Our job is to work together to improve all our issues and in turn enhance our community to be a better place to locate industry, as well as improving the quality of life for all citizens.”