Press Releases

Early County 2055 Nears $3 Million Goal for Advancing Early Initiative 2012

When it comes to stepping up to the plate Early County is living up to its reputation for being a model community, determined to put the economic foundation in place for its future. Announcing its most recent achievement, Early County 2055 disclosed today that it has raised $2.5 million toward a $3 million goal to fund a five-year strategic action plan called the Advancing Early Initiative 2012 (AEI2012).

"This is a tribute to the Early County community, which has made change really possible here in southwest Georgia," said Lisa Collins, the director of economic development for Early County 2055, the sponsoring organization of the Advancing Early Initiative 2012. "Almost everyone here has contributed something to this fundraising campaign and given their approval and support to implement the next phase of the Early County 2055 Economic Revitalization Initiative which began a little over two years ago."

The Advancing Early Initiative 2012 is a short term action strategy which is part of a 50-year economic Master Plan – Early County 2055, developed with broad community input and initially conceived and funded by the Atlanta-based Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation. The firm, National Community Development Services (NCDS), headquartered in Atlanta, working with Early County 2055 and a diverse group of community leaders, developed the five-year strategy and has been implementing a well-orchestrated fundraising campaign to underwrite it. The goals of the Advancing Early 2012 Initiative focus on stimulating economic development through new job creation, increased retail shopping options, historic restoration and more.

Local governments, businesses and individuals rallied to the campaign with substantial contributions that, according to NCDS Project Director Reed Benson, will likely exceed the ambitious $3 million goal after a handful of pending pledges are finalized.

"It is a great story about what can happen when a community comes together and works for a common goal," said Ms. Collins. "It is also a testimony of how this approach can work. So often change is met by resistance. By putting an inclusive process in place, communicating often and honestly with everyone, and gaining the trust and confidence of the community, we have made tremendous progress".

Richard Ward, who lives in Arlington, Ga. and serves as Chairman of the Early County Board of Commissioners, said that the Early County Commission solidly supports the effort to work on the issues that affect the people of this county. "Everyone has a stake in efforts to develop jobs for our young people as they graduate from school and consider their options. We believe every citizen in Early County wants to do all that is possible to give tomorrow's leadership employment options and career opportunities right here in Early County, so they can stay here and make enough money to raise a family and contribute as citizens of this community," he said.

Blakely Mayor Ric Hall, echoed Ward's assertion that economic development is everyone's concern. "Our Council voted unanimously to contract with the Advancing Early Initiative 2012 for economic development services. This will succeed because it is a collaborative effort that will have business people, the City and the County all working toward the same objective – jobs for our citizens."

"Early County now has the funding to implement an aggressive, well organized economic development strategy. Equally as important, the most capable and committed leaders in Early County have come together to oversee the work of the Advancing Early Initiative. The wonderful vision of the Charles and Catherine Rice Foundation of a renewed and flourishing Early County will be fulfilled because local leaders have now committed their own dollars and have taken ownership of the strategy," said Howard Benson, chief executive officer of NCDS.

According to Ms. Collins the majority of the local community – public establishments, small businesses, private individuals, farmers, city and county governments, retirees, banks and other industries – has participated at every stage of the EC2055 process. "This is their most recent success – the near completion of the Advancing Early Initiative 2012 Capital Campaign," she said. "A team of leading individuals and business owners looked at the 50-year plan and targeted the shorter term measurable priorities that need funding. Work is already underway on many of those priorities and we expect great things to happen over the next five years with this infusion of funds."

The strategies for realizing the Advancing Early Initiative 2012 include:
• Creating aggressive business recruitment and marketing strategies focused on "best fit" targets.
• Developing housing options for new and relocating workers and families, as well as establishing a Housing Progress Demolition Fund to encourage citizens with dilapidated structures to renovate or demolish them.
• Creating a quality conference space, a businesslike Chamber of Commerce facility and a theatre for community and cultural events. Construction of the 'East Gateway', an aesthetically pleasing entrance to Blakely is underway with the assistance of Georgia Department of Transportation funds.
• Stimulating the development of additional and improved shopping options.

Benson applauded the commitment of those who have stepped up to the challenge of making economic progress possible in Early County. "Most of the time, the missing ingredients in a stagnant community are vision, leadership and a well funded strategy. The Rice family provided a fresh vision and hope for change. Local companies, governments and individuals have invested funding, and a strategy with measurable benchmarks was devised with broad involvement of the citizenry. It's a proven recipe for successful community revitalization," he said.

"It has been an amazing and exciting year and the Early County residents are key to our ongoing success," said C. Barton Rice, executive director of Early County 2055. "Hard work is paying off and I'm certain that building this foundation will sustain a healthy economic future for everyone in Early County. We continue to need everyone's help to carry on the effort."

Early County 2055 is a non-profit organization created to sustain the EC 2055 fifty-year vision, fund the long-term effort to protect the area's historic and cultural foundation and build and maintain a prosperous economic future. For more information on Advancing Early Initiative 2012 call 229-724-7558.