June 6, 2012

City Pages

Economic Development Task Force Preparing to Draft Its Report

After four months of examination and extrapolation, Mayor Nancy Denson's Economic Development Task Force is getting ready to put pen to paper.

Specifically, the group, tasked by Denson to work out the kinks in how Athens-Clarke County attracts and retains industries, is preparing its first draft of what eventually will be a report to the Mayor and Commission on its findings. The task force, made up of more than two dozen Athens residents and businesspeople, plans to present a final report in October.

Last month, the group traveled to Atlanta to see how the state handles requests from businesses interested in moving to Georgia. And last week, the task force's drafting committee began work on the report, which identifies several key economic development engines in the county and how they could be improved. The report will weigh in on topics such as the efficiency and effectiveness of the local business permitting process, how Athens-Clarke and surrounding counties are perceived by the public and the business community, how nonprofits help or hinder economic development and the types of education and job training that are available here.

"We still have a little bit of discovery to do, and then we'll bring our recommendations together," said Grant Tribble, chairman of the task force and chief financial officer/ vice president of finance for Athens Regional Medical Center. "Once we get that done and start writing the report, that's when it will get really important and kind of fun, in my opinion, to see the genesis of our ideas being put together."

Tribble said Caterpillar's announcement to open a new factory on the Clarke-Oconee county line was an interesting learning experience for the group, which was able to witness first-hand how a large business moves its way through the economic and government systems. "And while it has been successful, there's always a chance to see what could have been better," he added.

A near-final draft of the task force's report is expected in September, Tribble said, allowing a month for any last revisions or questions before it's officially presented.

"The committee is, in my opinion, very diverse and very representative of the community. Everyone on the committee has been so open in bringing suggestions forward, almost from the standpoint of, 'Here are some options for your consideration,'" he added. But that's the one goal of the task force: to find ways to make the most of the opportunities available and identify areas that need improvement.

How the Mayor and Commission will take the task force's recommendations and implement them, Tribble said, will be a different discussion for a different day.