Press Releases

Early County is awarded Georgia Rural Development Council Grant for Community Leadership Initiative

Blakely, GA – Early County, through the collaborative efforts of Early County 2055, the Blakely/Early Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Georgia's Fanning Institute, has received a seed grant to continue its leadership development program, 'Leadership Early'. The initiative will identify and train a select group of leaders in Early County in the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the community and serve as a feeder program to the Georgia Academy's regional leadership program and to other community efforts.

The Community Leadership Initiative is a statewide collaborative sponsored by the Georgia Rural Development Council (GRDC) in partnership with the Fanning Institute of the University of Georgia. The Fanning Institute targets communities that do not have a sustained leadership development program in place. Its primary objective is to encourage active and educated leadership as a critical element of successful economic development, to build local capabilities and ultimately reduce dependence on state funding for leadership programs.  

A comprehensive economic development program is underway in Early County, the upshot of the 'Early County 2055' economic revitalization initiative that began two years ago to help create a healthy business climate for the area. The Atlanta-based Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation originated and funded the initial planning process with a gift to the county. Now in Phase Two, EC2055 is focusing on a five-year capital campaign that will stimulate economic development through new job creation, increased retail shopping options, historic restoration and more.

"Strengthening our community leadership is a natural component of the EC2055 initiative," according to Lisa Collins, the director of economic development of Early County 2055. "The 'Leadership Early' program, which kicks-off on July 10, ties into our economic development efforts by offering the county and the area a resource of leaders who will help guide and build prosperity for the future."

Ms. Collins has spearheaded bringing this program to Early County in order to strengthen the support and participation of the community and inspire residents to weigh in and influence issues facing the region, today and in the future.

"Up to 30 people are selected from throughout Early County each year to take part in the program. We place a lot of emphasis on diversity of race, gender and economic backgrounds, when we choose our 'Leadership Early' group," Collins said. "They all must have a demonstrated talent and commitment to community leadership, exhibit the ability and willingness to be involved in the learning process, and be committed to the program."  

According to Louise Hill, Leadership Development Specialist at the University of Georgia Fanning Institute, eligible applicants for this seed grant include: local governments, regional development centers, local development authorities, chambers of commerce or non-profit organizations.

"We are excited that Early County is participating in our Community Leadership Initiative," Hill said. "As champions of communities we know that when people engage in change activities to determine their future, there is a high probability that their efforts will succeed. The Fanning Institute acts as a bridge between and among the communities we serve to help them locate and take advantage of the resources they need."  

The Leadership Early Program will enable graduates to be better informed about their community and equipped with leadership skills to make a difference in the areas of the community where they choose to engage, added Ms. Collins.  The program is scheduled to run through December 2008 and graduates will be recognized at the Blakely/Early County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in January 2009.


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 further information contact Early County 2055 offices, 229-724-7558 or go to

The Fanning Institute,, is a multidisciplinary outreach unit of the University of Georgia operating in the common ground of community, economic, and leadership development. Fanning provides training to develop capacity in people and communities, assists communities in exploring issues and identifying solutions, and promotes engagement to address the complex problems facing communities and society.