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Regional summit stirs collaboration
Transportation, work force development top wish list
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Chris Clark, left, CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and Commissioner Chris Cummiskey of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, speak during the Governors Competitiveness Initiative regional meeting at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Autumn McBride

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Want to make your voice heard? An online survey will be open through the end of August for those unable to attend the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative’s regional meetings. It can be accessed at www.georgiacompetitiveness.org.

Infrastructure, technology, transportation and education were among the topics addressed during a regional economic development summit.

About 150 people from 13 northeastern Georgia counties took part in the Governor’s Competitiveness Initiative regional meeting Thursday at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

The session’s purpose was to gather input from business and government leaders, as well as residents, on ways to strengthen the state’s economy.

The meetings are being held in each of the Georgia Economic Development Department’s 12 regions.

Thursday’s gathering was for Forsyth, Hall, Dawson, Lumpkin and White counties. Also included were Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Hart, Rabun, Stephens, Towns and Union counties.

Randall Toussaint, vice president of economic development with the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce, said the initiative brought the region together.

"This is significant because it has provided our region’s leaders, businesses and residents with a tremendous opportunity to collectively discuss strategies for enhancing the economic vitality of our communities," he said.

Amy Booker, president of the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Center, agreed.

"It’s very exciting and I applaud the governor for inspiring a sense of collaboration and creating a vision to bring together local communities and regions," Booker said.

Attendees took part in questions-and-answer sessions, facilitated small group discussions and heard from several speakers.

Among them was Steve Morse, director of the University of Tennessee’s Tourism Institute. Morse discussed the importance of tourism in fostering economic development.

Anna Brostom, tourism director of the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce, said the speech was informative.

"I really liked how he looks at tourism as a way to strengthen communities," she said. "He pointed out that tourism is a great way to not only bring visitors to an area, but to also bring in people who want to live or have a business in that area."

Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said several other common topics seem to surface at all the regional meetings.

"From our prospective, that’s good because it’s easier to address eight to 12 larger problems than 30 smaller ones," he said.

Cummiskey added that the three areas most people seem to agree need improvement in Georgia are transportation, work force development and initiative packages to attract new businesses.

Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, concurred.

"Overall, the big issues seem to be the same across the state," he said. "We’re hearing a lot about K through 12 education, infrastructure, increased work force and state initiatives."

Booker said the meeting also seemed to inspire attendees to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own counties.

"It’s really interesting in that there now seems to be a lot of interest at the local levels to go out to do this sort of process in our own communities," she said. "Hopefully this [meeting] will inspire more of that coming together and collaboration locally and regionally."

Moving forward, Toussaint said, events like this "will play a key role in ensuring that our tourism and economic development strategies maintain a regional focus."

Two more regional meetings will be held over the next few weeks. An online survey for those unable to attend the sessions will be available through August.

The governor will get a report on all the input.

"You’ll probably see that report by the end of this year, and there will likely be some legislative actions as a result in 2012," Cummiskey said.