By Kathleen Cason
University of Georgia
Metro-Atlanta’s Clayton County has undergone all of those changes and more since the early ‘90s, according to county leaders who participated in a listening session led by the University of Georgia’s Archway Partnership Project on January 29.
“This listening session was an opportunity for us to hear what the county’s issues are and begin to discuss the possibility of Clayton County becoming an Archway County,” said Steve Dempsey, UGA associate vice president for Public Service and Outreach and facilitator for the meeting.
More than 70 local elected officials, educators, business leaders, healthcare professionals, and others described the trends and issues affecting their community, what steps need to be taken to adapt to the changes, and what assets the community already has that can be built on or expanded.
In addition to a rapid shift from a suburban to urban environment and an increasingly diverse population, Clayton County has a complex local government structure that includes the county, the school board and seven cities.
“In an Archway partnership, the university serves as a neutral third party that can help a community like Clayton County get a better understanding of the issues it faces,” said Mel Garber, director of UGA’s Archway Partnership Project. “UGA also can help target responses to community needs.”
Archway began in 2005 as a two-year pilot project in rural southwest Georgia’s Moultrie, Colquitt County, to help that community solve issues related to rapid growth. During the pilot phase, Archway partners tackled issues such as land-use planning, workforce housing and needs of the growing Latino population.
“Archway can provide communities in transition with access to the full resources of higher education,” said Art Dunning, UGA vice president for Public Service and Outreach. “It is a community-driven partnership where the community sets the priorities and implements solutions.”
The success of the two-year pilot led the Board of Regents to add funding to establish a permanent project in Colquitt County and expand Archway to two additional locations: Washington County and Glynn County. Clayton County may become the fourth Archway county and the first one in an urban area.
The Archway partnership benefits the community in many ways. For example, rapid industrial and residential growth was a strain on Moultrie’s municipal wastewater capacity. In response, UGA’s Engineering Outreach Service and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government helped identify options that doubled wastewater capacity at a savings of $25 to $30 million compared to initial plans.
The partnership also benefits UGA by offering the state as a learning laboratory, creating faculty research opportunities and student learning opportunities in real-world situations.
So far, three Archway professionals have been hired to work with the Colquitt, Washington and Glynn county communities and identify ways that UGA teaching, research and outreach can help.
Washington County residents identified access to healthcare as a priority in their community. In response, Archway and UGA’s College of Public Health established an outreach position assigned to help identify critical public health needs in east central Georgia and pave the way for future graduate student internships.
Glynn County will officially become an Archway partner on July 1, but an Archway professional is already on the job and the community has started the facilitated process of determining and prioritizing community needs.
(Kathleen Cason is the communication director for the UGA Office for the Vice President of Public Service & Outreach.)