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Hometown Philanthropy...

Hometown Philanthropy Helps Transform Yesterday's Resources into a More Prosperous Tomorrow

All over Georgia, farsighted hometown philanthropists are helping their neighbors build a prosperous future using riches of the past.

The futures of Blakely and Early County, Covington and Newton County and Macon have become less mirage than vision, less vague hope than willful determination as their residents prepare both warm welcomes and clearly marked pathways for the futures they are designing to the smallest detail.

Blakely, Early County
Funded by the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation, an 8-day charrette last Spring resulted in the Early County 2055 (EC2055) initiative, already transforming Early County.

The 50-year master plan to raise the quality of life for current and future residents, finds its inspiration in the countys historic and cultural terrain.

Once a thriving agricultural center, Early was badly hurt by advances in technology that produced more efficient farm yields using far fewer workers.

While Georgias overall population has grown 182 percent since the 1930s, Earlys has dropped 32 percent. Times havent been easy for many of those who remained. Twice the state average, 26 percent of the population live below the poverty line, many in mobile homes or subsidized housing.

Where others see desolation, the Rices see possibility. Charles Rice, who grew up in Blakely, points to a bounty of rural charm, low taxes and living expenses, proximity to the Gulf, and business potential that can transform Early into a new mecca.

They trust that carefully orchestrated planning by residents will return Early County to what it once was, and more.

EC2055 will enable Early County to merge history with an economic future of growth and prosperity, he said.

Committed involvement by residents is crucial. Key to the anticipated success of EC 2055 is the fact that the plan is crafted largely by citizens themselves.

They attended a May, 2006, charrette led by the Florida town planning firm, PlaceMakers, Inc.

At the charrette, residents created the first phase of a plan to bring out the best in Early County over the long term.

EC2055 foresees a future in which economic stability and rich cultural heritage dovetail with pedestrian-friendly city planning and old-fashioned values.

The houses, churches and farm buildings of my childhood were simple, pleasant, and warm; not always fancy, but well cared for. Theyve stood the test of time, Barton Rice, Executive Director of the foundation and Charles and Catherines son, recalled. They represent the kind of life we believe in.

The Rices and residents agree that historically resonant communities with small-town appeal will lure many of the 76 million boomers28 percent of the population with over $8.5 trillion in assetsretiring in the next decades.

That appeal, coupled with soaring insurance and taxes, has already made Early popular among current retirees fleeing Florida but not the Southern sun.

Early County intends to parlay its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, low cost-of-living and small-town charm into a habitat offering the convenience and amenities retirees seek, plus something infinitely more satisfying.

EC2055 builds on values people long for. Neighborhood shops, civic buildings drawing folks downtown, slower traffic and a pedestrian friendly setting are all part, Barton Rice said. But future residents will also seek a prosperous future woven from a multitude of diverse threads.

Affordable housing, sustainable and healthy food and water sources, alternative energy, downtown revitalization, tourism initiatives and regional wi-fi and broadband technology are all part of the countys future fabric.

That fabric is already wrapping Early in a charmed cloak. A feature film to be made entirely in Blakely brings employment to local carpenters and electricians. And in September, 2006, the Early
County Development Authority donated five acres to build a 12,000 square foot facility for a wardrobe company relocating from Orlando.

We are a catalyst, Barton Rice said. Early County is migrating from an agricultural economy to a thriving service-and-knowledge-based one.

His father concurs. Its up to residents to realize the plan.

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updated: 8 years ago