Organization: Don’t forget us down here

Published 7:40 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Water and roads—these two necessities are often taken for granted, but are vital to economic development.

Michelle Dunn, director of the South Georgia Businesses for Economic Development, delivered that message to the Bainbridge Rotary Club Tuesday during lunch.

Glennie Bench, Dunn’s presenter and a SGBED board member, described the organization’s intent as “to represent our economic interest, in Atlanta primarily, so that policy can be passed that benefits our part of the state. In other words, to make sure we are not forgotten in all things Atlanta.”

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For the areas not included in the 27-county Metro Atlanta Planning District, gaining traction in the legislature can often be a challenge. And with traction comes funding.

Dunn recollected lobbying against Senate Bill 200 several years ago that would have allocated the majority of state transportation expenditures to interstates.

By joining forces with areas of north Georgia, the SGBED was able to remove the clause that “congestion mitigation” was the most pressing issue in the state. That clause would have pointed the vast majority of funding to the metro-Atlanta area. The argument from lobbyists for the Atlanta Metro regions was if the congestion mitigation was not solved, the state would miss out on new businesses locating here.

“Let’s think outside a 100-mile circle around Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta to bring industry into the state,” Dunn said. “In south Georgia, we have water, we have educated people, we have land, and we have roads. But those roads need to be developed a little more to make use of the ports and other resources in South Georgia.”

The legislature finally decided to table SB 200 until a master state-wide plan was developed to benefit the entire state. That plan would include ways to route trucks and route out-of-state tourists out of Atlanta through improved developmental corridors.

The SGBED also fought hard to ensure that South Georgia was represented on the water advisory councils. Three of the organization’s board members are on three different water advisory councils covering the southern part of the state.

Dunn further explained the goal and focus of the SGBED. While not involved in specific requests and projects, the organization will help ensure that South Georgia is not forgotten when time comes to allocate funds.