Since the Great Recession, rural downtowns across the country have undergone a renaissance. While larger communities typically have physical amenities that draw talent, the overall cost of living to be “close to everything” can be burdensome. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities are beginning to realize the certain advantages and potential for attracting talent that can work just about anywhere with the right infrastructure. Recognizing the opportunity to capitalize on their assets, the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission (SWGRC) contracted with the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) to conduct a strategic plan to use as a roadmap to pursue the region’s economic development goals.
The Southwest Georgia region has been hit hard because of natural disasters, and more recently, sustained a significant community impact during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. During October 2018, Hurricane Michael impacted more than 20,000 businesses in Georgia. According to FEMA, southern Georgia sustained approximately $3 billion in damages in the agriculture industry alone (according to estimates from the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and Georgia Forestry Commission). Most recently, several Southwest Georgia counties reported the highest COVID-19 case count per 100,000 people in the state, while unemployment claims had risen over 4,000 percent during April 2020. Under the CARES Act, the SWGRC is conducting this strategic plan to prioritize the region’s most pressing economic needs, and to help inform their short and long-term economic resilience strategies. These strategies will assist the SWGRC in developing public-private partnerships, as it strives to revitalize key industry sectors and attract people and investment.
As an EDA University Center, Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to assist communities throughout the Southeast on various economic development initiatives. The Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) is Georgia Tech’s signature program for providing affordable economic development research and analysis capacity for communities that need it the most. CARES Act Recovery Assistance and EDRP are funded through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s University Center grant program and administered by Georgia Tech. These funds are available to eligible communities across eight southeastern U.S. states.