After two community town halls, more than 100 community surveys and several focus groups, the Burke County UGA Archway Partnership executive committee is announcing its community priorities are housing, workforce development, and intergovernmental collaboration and communication. These priorities were not a surprise to the committee, but members were pleased that community feedback aligned well with their impressions going into the process.
“These were the top three that surfaced from our listening sessions and all our online surveys. When the executive committee met, we had an idea of the topics that would have been near the top. This is a community effort, and we want to do what they want to do,” said Suzanne Sharkey, chair of the executive committee and Georgia Power manager for Burke County.
Housing has long been on the minds of Burke County residents. As an alum of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH), the community is familiar with the importance of the issue of housing and would like to see increased availability of mid-priced housing, which survey respondents said is key to bringing new industry and residents into the county. A lack of rental property also means would-be residents are forced to buy a home rather than rent.
Workforce development is a priority for several of Archway’s largely rural communities, and Burke would like to see this highlighted as well. To attract new business and help to improve existing ones, the executive committee would like to expand internship opportunities, and create youth leadership programs and other workforce-related programs that impact both current residents and potential new ones.
The third recurring issue discussed by the executive committee was enhancing community engagement and communication on a range of topics. The executive committee would aim to improve the collaboration and communication between the municipal governments within the community through the Archway Partnership model and process, including issue workgroups and intergovernmental workshops.
“The executive committee decided on our priority areas based on feedback from the community. The topics of housing, workforce development, and intergovernmental collaboration and communication are issues we have all heard about and discussed for several years,” said Greg Coursey, another executive committee member and the campus coordinator for Augusta Technical College. “We all know how important these topics are, and we hope that improvements are made in each area as we tackle them.”
Coursey noted that enhancing one priority can lead to other positive outcomes. “We are confident, for example, that if a wide range of workforce development issues in Burke County are addressed and some solutions are made, they would have such a positive effect in other aspects of the community as well,” said Coursey. “As we begin to dig deeper into these topics, we hope to have short- and long-term solutions that will be felt community-wide.”
With the facilitation of Archway Professional Aaron Redman, Burke County is already taking steps toward these priorities, including the UGA Cyber Arch program, which helps to improve government and business efforts at cybersecurity. The community is also currently forming workgroups to address each priority and hopes to continue to see broad community input to find solutions that will work for all residents of Burke County.
“Each executive committee member brings their own strengths, and it is great we can have so much of the community represented by our members,” said Sharkey. “We’re getting a broad spectrum of government officials and business leaders all working together to solve the issues identified by our community residents. Archway is doing a great job of working across the whole county, not just Waynesboro. Our goal is not to be the fixer of everything but continuously be working to make the community better.”