Athens-Clarke County, Georgia may be best known for its musical exports. From the B-52’s to REM, it has an outsized reputation for its music scene and funky character. It is also home to the country’s oldest public university in the University of Georgia along with more than 40,000 college students. This institution employs more than 10,000 people, and has a strong research reputation especially in the field of bio-science. At the same time, Athens-Clarke County (which is managed by a unified city-county government) struggles with high-levels of poverty, increasing housing costs, and uneven levels of economic attainment. As the smallest county in Georgia (by more than 10 square miles) it has few places to grow. This makes typical economic development models difficult to apply.
The Athens-Clarke County Community and Economic Strategic Plan kicked off in the fall of 2016 with the first meeting of its citizen Steering Committee. A consultant team of Planning NEXT, along with Ninigret Partners, was selected to facilitate the process and deliver a community action plan to address core community issues. The process was named Envision Athens based on the direction of the Steering Committee and began its public engagement activities in January of 2016.
A series of Focus on the Future workshops were publicized throughout the Athens community, attracted more than 600 participants and gathered nearly 4,000 unique comments and ideas. These meetings were supplemented by 23 focus group interviews and a two-day stakeholder workshop. The themes derived from this input have served as the foundation for the action plan and informed the community’s ten goal statements. The goal statements were tested via smart phone polling during the Community Summit meeting in April. More than 250 people gathered in the Classic Center to hear about major revelations of the process, and to affirm the plan’s early direction.
Envision Athens is ongoing and is expected to conclude in the summer of 2017. The planning team has begun its targeted analysis of key community issues, and will be working with the Steering Committee to identify key actions over the coming months. To find out more about the process and its results please visit www.envisionathens.org.