Writer: Margaret Blanchard
The University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government is expanding efforts to support rural communities in Georgia thanks to funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development as well as resources provided by the University of Georgia Foundation. The Institute of Government is a Public Service and Outreach unit at UGA.
The $249,980 award from USDA, combined with the UGA Foundation contribution, will allow for three new counties – Baldwin, Ben Hill and Burke – to participate in PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership), a program launched last year.
The expansion is part of the USDA’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC), a collaborative engagement process that helps leaders from rural communities create quality places where people will want to live, work, play and learn.
Representatives from Baldwin, Ben Hill and Burke counties gathered with UGA Public Service and Outreach faculty and staff in Milledgeville on Jan. 25-26 to kick off the program and start identifying strategies for community and economic development.
Jonathan Jackson, executive director of Develop Milledgeville-Baldwin County, welcomes the opportunity to bring new voices to the table.
“I think a lot of us are flying at 40,000 feet, and looking at things the way we’d like them to be,” he said. “UGA PROPEL allows us to be on the ground, get our hands dirty, and use our feet to march in the right direction – it’s going to revolutionize our effort.”
As part of the PROPEL process, each community identifies a core team of community leaders, such as economic development professionals, elected officials, community representatives and leaders in education and business, to lead their efforts. Over a two-year period, the teams will learn to analyze economic and labor market data and identify community resources that drive growth.
Communities already engaged in the UGA PROPEL process are Appling, Grady, Pulaski and Washington counties as well as the Lower Chattahoochee Joint Development Authority, which includes Clay, Quitman, Randolph and Stewart counties.
Jack Stanek, community programs director for the state’s USDA Rural Development office, said the program aligns well with the department’s placemaking initiatives.
“We’re proud to be a part of UGA PROPEL,” he said. “It’s great to see the community engagement and resources that will be available to them as they set their objectives.”
UGA’s Public Service and Outreach programs help fulfill the university’s land-grant and sea-grant mission. Programs like PROPEL play a significant role in the overall economic impact on Georgia. In 2022, the university calculated that impact at $7.6 billion.
“This is an ideal partnership of public investment and private support.” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for Public Service and Outreach. “We look forward to following the progress of these communities.”
Shown above: The UGA Institute of Government welcomed three new communities into the Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership (PROPEL) program. Core team members from Baldwin, Ben Hill and Burke counties gathered in Milledgeville recently to learn more about developing strategies for community and economic development. The program is expanding thanks to funding from the USDA’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC).