ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Community leaders want to get Effingham County residents to not just think local but act local — especially when it comes to spending their money.
The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce wrapped up its annual community retreat Friday, and attendees said leaders need to get the word out about what the county has to offer.
“We’ve looked at communication,” said Chamber Executive Director Rick Lott, “and it’s a hard community to reach with any kind of message. We’re encouraging people to shop local and support local businesses. A lot of people don’t realize the connection between their tax dollars that they could spend in Effingham and the difference that could make in our schools, our roads, our quality of life. We’re looking for ways to communicate that to the public.”
Effingham Health System CEO Norma Jean Morgan said leaders have to reset the way people think about Effingham County.
“We’ve got so many opportunities to communicate outside our echo chamber,” said business owner David Harris. “We need a plan and a person, and this person needs to eat, live and breathe getting out what Effingham County is all about.”
School Superintendent Randy Shearouse said for residents who live in the southern areas of the county, going to Pooler for shopping and entertainment may seem easier.
“It was always big to go to Savannah on a Friday or Saturday,” Shearouse said. “Some people head to Savannah because it’s tradition.”
Lott said when he went looking to buy a new vehicle, it was important to him to make that decision between Effingham dealerships.
“I think our big challenge is how to reset people’s mindsets when you’re used to automatically thinking for anything significant you have to go out of the county,” he said. “You really don’t anymore. Almost anything you need is right here in Effingham County. We have to figure out how to get that message across that everything you need is right here.”
One of the ideas floated was a shared media buy and perhaps a billboard informing drivers that money they spend outside the county is sales tax money the county and cities don’t receive — and that could impact their taxes elsewhere.
Discussion groups went over better communication, promoting residents to shop local and pushing development opportunities. The community could do a better job of showcasing its assets, overcoming a lack of awareness, highlighting its rivers and Ebenezer Creek as destinations, involve more community groups, restore the Guyton Tour of Homes and promoting the Springfield Christmas event, attendees determined. They also suggested the school system teach Effingham’s history and having an Effingham History Week.
But volunteers can’t do it all, they said, and it also will take money to make these visions come to reality.
Lott said Effingham is going to have another growth spurt soon, and it could be a result of the continued boom in west Chatham.
“We’re poised for such growth over the next five to 10 years,” he said. “Look at what Pooler is doing now, and we had so many comments from our group that the growth in West Chatham is going to spill into Effingham. People are going to want to take advantage of a quieter place and take advantage of a school system that is so great. When you see these projections, you know the growth is coming. The challenge and the opportunity we have been looking at is how to prepare for that and how to make this community a better place to live and work.”