Catfish Farm, college at breakfast

Published 6:57 pm Friday, June 3, 2011

AT THE CHAMBER BREAKFAST, from the left, front, are Glen Dora Cromer and Chamber President Diane Strickland; back, Chamber Chairman Ryan Phillips, Al Cromer, Bainbridge College President Richard Carvajal and Bruce Cromer.

Chamber of Commerce members attending the monthly breakfast Thursday morning at the Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center learned more about Bainbridge College and the Decatur Fish Farm.

The fish farm was the sponsor of the breakfast, but turned over a portion of its time to Bainbridge College President Richard Carvajal, who outlined some of the college’s future plans and some of its unique characteristics.

For example, 57 percent of the college’s students are 25 years or older, while 23 percent are 20 years old or younger, which makes for a very diverse student body, Carvajal said.

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Sixty percent of the students are from Decatur County, and further, he said the college’s founding fathers were correct when they felt the college would contribute to the future economic well-being of the region.

He said Bainbridge College has either started or supports approximately 800 jobs in the area.

And the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business looked at the annual economic impact Bainbridge College has on the region, concluding it to be $70,824,164 annually.

“Over $70 million every year is pumped into this community because Bainbridge College exists,” Carvajal said.

The new president then outlined several initiatives he is working on, mainly making a renewed commitment to academic excellence.

The president said the college is starting to change the physical learning spaces—putting in new standardized teaching technology in every classroom.

The college also plans to enhance its tutoring. Students will have available face-to-face free tutoring within a 40-hour window on campus. That will expand next year to free 24-hour, seven-days-a-week on-line tutoring, Carvajal said.

The college also wants to enhance the delivery of its teaching. A team of seven faculty members has on its agenda, “What can we do with our classroom to maximize the learning of our students using national best practices?” Carvajal said.

The college is also looking at examining its overall facilities, and BC is working with an architectural firm from St. Louis, Mo., to come up with a campus master plan—asking questions like, ‘Where will the proposed academic building work best?’ That plan is scheduled to be released in the fall.

Regarding the proposed academic building, Carvajal said he received a commitment from Speaker of the House David Ralston to include funding for it in next year’s budget. Carvajal said the academic building’s planning and design funding was in the Senate’s budget this year, but wasn’t in the House’s budget.

The academic building would be the first such building constructed on the campus since the college first opened. The other new buildings, the Kirbo Center and the Student Wellness Center, are not for instructional purposes. The academic building would be, and it would be funded from tax dollars.

“We are also looking at what would the campus look like 10 years from now?” Carvajal said. He mentioned a fine arts building down the road, and how would it be placed on the campus.

Carvajal said he wants to expand the international studies and travel for BC students as well as attract more international students.

Another issue hanging over the head of Carvajal, which was also over former President Tom Wilkerson’s, was whether or not Bainbridge College should expand to a four-year college.

“Our college has made a commitment that some time in the next year, once and for all, we are going to answer that question,” Carvajal said. “What we are starting to think is that there might be in fact a chance to do all the same things we do right now but simply become more comprehensive by adding a couple of four-year programs to our offering.”

Carvajal said there is a firm studying what options Bainbridge College may take in that regard— what bachelor programs would be practical and what bachelor programs would allow students to study here and then stay and work here. He said that study is also scheduled to be completed in the fall.

A question from the audience was if the college will some day have student housing.

Carvajal said student housing is one of the aspects the architect is looking at, and that international students would be the driving force in creating student housing. Student housing, perhaps a 200-bed facility, is not the first priority of the college, Carvajal said.

Decatur Fish Farm

Decatur Fish Farm is a 100-acre, eight-pond, family-owned operation on U.S. 84 East located just west of the new Bainbridge High School.

Since starting the business in 1997, Glen Dora and Al Cromer, along with their son, Bruce, operate the wholesale distributor of farm-raised catfish and other seafood.

Mrs. Cromer told the members the business grows its own catfish and distributes shrimp, scallops, gator, tilapia and swai to more than 260 locations in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and a small corner of Mississippi. In Decatur County, Decatur Fish Farm distributes to Dixie Dandy, Grocery Outlet and the Meat House in Bainbridge and to Jones Meats in Climax, which was its first retailer.

With the assistance of Decatur County Extension Coordinator Mitchell May and others at the University of Georgia Extension Offices, the Cromers credit them with assisting them in starting their business.

“Have you ever started a business you never knew anything about?” Mrs. Cromer said. “We did.”

Decatur Fish Farm presently employs 20 people with four trucks that deliver product.

The Cromers actually own 400 acres, of which only 100 acres is used for the fish farm. Mrs. Cromer said they are planning to make announcements in the future concerning their plans for the property.