Thomson-McDuffie County the State’s First Connected Resilient Community

Kelly Simmons

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

Thomson-McDuffie County, Ga., is the inaugural recipient of UGA’s Connected Resilient Community designation, which recognizes Georgia communities that partner with university experts to increase economic development potential.

McDuffie County has been a UGA Archway Partnership community since 2017 and in the past five years has worked with UGA on a number of projects designed to address local challenges.

UGA President Jere W. Morehead announced the CRC program during his 2022 State of the University speech in January, noting that UGA faculty, staff and students already were working in Georgia’s 159 counties to create better economic sustainability and resiliency.

“Through this program we will work hand-in-hand with communities to build and implement economic and community development plans, harnessing our significant capabilities in data analytics, civic engagement, and technical assistance to help them identify future challenges as well as opportunities for growth and prosperity,” Morehead said.
Facilitated by the Archway Partnership, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, the Connected Resilient Community program receives funding from the Office of the UGA Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.

The program also received a generous contribution from the UGA Foundation to establish an endowment for the CRC, and to use for operating expenses. The Foundation gave Public Service another generous amount to support community economic development efforts by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

The inaugural CRC designation was presented to community leaders from Thomson-McDuffie County on Monday, during the 2022 Public Service and Outreach Awards Luncheon at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. The next four communities to work toward the designation were announced during that luncheon as well. They are Hart and Washington counties, both Archway Partnership communities; Newton County, and the City of Thomaston.

Initially, applications are limited to Georgia Department of Community Affairs designated Tier 1 and 2 communities —those with the highest unemployment rate, the lowest per capital income and the highest percentage of residents living below the poverty level.

These communities will partner with experts from UGA to complete three projects designed to increase resiliency over a period of 12-18 months. Communities receive silver and gold medals after projects one and two, and the platinum medal after project three, signifying they have earned the CRC designation through extraordinary planning, collaboration and partnership with UGA to build a prosperous future.

Thomson-McDuffie County was the pilot community for the CRC.

“The Thomson-McDuffie County community rallied around the Archway Partnership program from the very start, eagerly looking for opportunities to plan for grow leadership potential, enhance its workforce and bring in UGA experts to help increase economic development potential through recreational tourism and a revitalized downtown,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “This CRC designation differentiates that community from others in a highly competitive landscape.”

The three projects Thomson-McDuffie submitted to be considered for the CRC designations are:

  • Succession Planning/ Leadership Development

Resilient communities prepare for the future and succession planning is a key element of that preparation. Through the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, the county revamped its well-established Leadership McDuffie program with a more intensive approach to developing the next generation of leaders through professional development, networking and mentoring. The first class began in fall 2020 and graduated in summer 2021. The next group will begin this year.

  • Tourism Asset Development

Resilient communities identify opportunities to develop unique assets and natural resources to build economic development through recreational tourism, a $27 billion industry in Georgia. Faculty and students from the UGA College of Environment and Design (CED) worked with McDuffie County to develop a master plan for additional boat launches and a trail system at Clarks Hill Lake to take advantage of open spaces for recreation. The county will use the plan to apply for state grants to fund the projects.

  • Infrastructure Improvement

Resilient communities must ensure that infrastructure is well-maintained and up to date, and constantly look for opportunities to improve functionality to meet the changing needs of residents. Faculty and students from the UGA College of Engineering helped Thomson city officials think of ways to revitalize the downtown Journal Street corridor, which has been plagued with drainage issues, unsightly utility lines and a foreboding appearance. They reimagined a Journal Street alley as an attractive outdoor dining location, with an attractive walkable brick road that would help spur further redevelopment efforts. The Journal Street corridor was identified as a project ion a larger downtown redevelopment plan developed earlier by the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

“Completing projects in several of these designated areas that are criteria for a resilient community is something we’ve been working on for the last five years,” said Don Powers, chair of the Thomson-McDuffie Archway Partnership and president of Forward McDuffie.  “Resiliency to me means that you have the ability to weather whatever comes your way. Right now, we collaborate with Archway and UGA, but there may come a time when we’re not an Archway community, and we have to build that internal ability to solve our own problems. ”