Monday, October 07, 2019

Oconee County Economic Development Taskforce Settles On Strategies In Final Scheduled Meeting

***Public Report At Town Hall Meeting***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners’ Economic Development Taskforce has identified three strategies for economic development for the county.

The county should invest in current businesses, create an environment for professional and technological innovation, and develop partnerships with the University of Georgia, the group has concluded.

The Taskforce will report on its recommendations to the Board of Commissioners and to the public at the Town Hall Meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac told the Taskforce, wrapping up its work at its third and final scheduled meeting today, that he thinks the Board of Commissioners will want to formally adopt the recommendation of the Taskforce before those strategies are put into effect.

The Board of Commissioners has signed an agreement to pay the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce $100,000 annually to handle economic development work for the county and appointed the Taskforce to give the Chamber guidance for that work.

Third Meeting

The Taskforce began today’s meeting by focusing on some statements that Lesser had put on the screen, drawing, he said, from comments he had received after the Taskforce’s second meeting on Sept. 23.

Brodrick And Strategies (Click To Enlarge)

The first statement Lesser attributed to Tim Burgess, a member of the Board of Education and that Board’s representative on the 10-member Taskforce.

The second and third statements, Lesser said, came from Brian Brodrick, a Watkinsville City Council member and the city’s representative on the Taskforce.

The Taskforce quickly settled on what Brodrick had labeled Option A with its focus on existing businesses, professional and technological innovation, and the University of Georgia.

The second option from Brodrick also included the University of Georgia but mentioned specifically healthcare as a strategic focus.

The first option, attributed to Burgess, focused more on education in general but also mentioned the University of Georgia.

University Focus

The inclusion of the University of Georgia in all three options grew out of discussion at the Sept. 23 meeting, when Craig Lesser from the Pendleton Group, a Dunwoody consulting group, listed out 16 research and development centers at the university that linked with the state’s industrial focus.

Three Options (Click To Enlarge)

Lesser is serving as a consultant to the Chamber and has served as a facilitator at each of the three meetings of the Economic Development Taskforce.

Brodrick said the “big idea” around his Option A is “growing the jobs of tomorrow. In other words, we’re going to where the ball is going to be down the road and not focused on where we are right now.

“So that means we have to invest in our current businesses,” Brodrick said. “We have to create an unmatched environment. That means we’re going to change some things.”

“And then obviously we’ve talked about the partnerships with the University of Georgia and how important that is,” Brodrick said. “There’s three legs of the stool, but the big idea is growing the jobs of tomorrow.”

Nature of Partnership With University

Lesser told the Taskforce that the county “may or may not” end up developing “a true partnership with the University of Georgia.”

Lesser And Bernardi

“It may be, with all due respect to the University of Georgia,” Lesser said, “that the bureaucracy associated with the University of Georgia may slow this down or call a halt to any kind of formal relationship.”

“However, I think there’s another path that I think will be equally successful for us as we move forward marketing Oconee County,” Lesser added.

The University likely will attempt to recruit companies to partner with it on its research, Lesser said.

“We may want to market Oconee County to them independently, and say, if you are interested in what is going on at the University of Georgia, you want to be near the University of Georgia,” Lesser said.

“You want to take advantage of the students coming out of the University of Georgia,” Lesser said the county should say. “You want to take advantage of the great place to live in Oconee County.

“You want to take advantage of the students coming out of the Oconee County school system,” Lesser said.

Next Step

Lesser said the county needs to decide if it needs land to entice companies to locate in Oconee County, it needs to decide what incentives, if any, it is willing to offer, and it needs to decide how to communicate the plan to the citizens.


“One of the most important things we can do is make sure that all of our citizens, all of our citizens, are not just bought in, but proud of this and talking about it and moving it forward.”

The Taskforce decided that Brad Tucker should make the presentation at the Town Hall Meeting tomorrow night.

Tucker is one of two members of the Chamber of Commerce on the Taskforce. The other is Tammy Gilland, Chamber president.

Mark Saxon and Mark Thomas from the Board of Commissioners are on the Taskforce, but the sentiment was that neither should make the presentation at the Town Hall meeting. Saxon missed the meeting today.

Other Taskforce members are Janet Jones, soon to be mayor of Bogart, Rick Waller, chair of the Industrial Development Authority, and citizens Lisa Douglas and Sharon Maxey.

The first meeting of the Taskforce was on Sept. 17.

Kirouac said the Taskforce can be called back together in the future “for specific tasks,” but the initial work is completed.


The video below is from the meeting today at the Chamber of Commerce.

Through a scheduling snafu, I did not attend or get a video recording of the meeting on Sept. 23, but Courtney Bernardi, Chamber president, did provide me with a copy of her minutes of the meeting. Bernardi has attended all three of the Taskforce meetings.

In the video below, Brodrick explained in some detail his vision for the county at 53:45.


Anonymous said...

$100,000 for what?
Suggestion 1- Common sense tells you to support local businesses because they bring in tax revenue. Suggestion 2- Build on technology type businesses. Tell that to the present BOC when they prefer truck stops in an area for industrial and technology growth. A rush to build more fast food joints sure has enhanced our county. By the way, the past economic director came before the IDA with a proposal geared toward economic development with UGA research and it went nowhere. He had been working with some companies in the research industry. Watch Dr. Becker’s videos, they are illuminating. The BOC would not move on it. Waller may have been referring to this when he said checks are not written. Sorry, Rick only to commissioner’s kin. Suggestion 3-Partner with UGA. That took a giant leap to come up with. Lesser danced around that suggestion. Why? because it was the one thing that the guy would be expected to do and he doesn’t have the connections to follow through with. At the Town Hall, Tucker will articulate the obvious better than when he sold Mercedes. And at the end of the day the taxpayers have been had by politicians.

Anonymous said...

Oconee Co. Chamber's Pendleton Group consultant Craig Lesser's speak regarding UGA was pure gibberish. For what time period is the Pendleton Group hired to consult with the Chamber?

Lee Becker said...

Anonymous 9:02,

The relationship between Lesser and the Chamber has not been discussed in open meetings, as far as I know, and is not covered by open records requirements. Yours is a good question, and I will see what I can learn.


Anonymous said...

Courtney Horton Bernardi needs to come clean on ALL expenses the BOC has approved in the name of economic development. It may come out the taxpayers are footing the bills for more than Lesser and the Pendleton payoff.

Honest businesses associated with the Oconee Chamber of Commerce will look tainted by such a questionable set up.

Will elected officials be held accountable?