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Retreat-goers like communitys direction
0830 chamber retreat 1
Tracy Wells, Effingham IDA attorney Marvin Fentress, IDA project manager Ryan Moore and Sherry and Reggie Loper work on a presentation on the final day of the annual community retreat. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

ST. SIMONS ISLAND—Effingham County community leaders left the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort encouraged about being able to work together in the future.

The annual two-day retreat, conducted by the Effingham Chamber of Commerce, concluded Friday morning after discussion groups bandied about how best the county should grow. One of the common themes expressed was seeing the county become less of a bedroom community to Savannah and Chatham County and becoming more economically self-sufficient.

“I do think that in five years that we’re going to see Effingham become a self-sustainable community,” said Chamber President Brooke Burns Graham. “I believe that’s what everybody’s goal, and we are trying to work toward that.”

Thanks to a Skype connection, local lawmakers gave a legislative update from the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Dr. Michael Toma, from Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Center for Regional Analysis, delivered an economic forecast and Cail Hammons, executive director of the Greensboro Better Hometown, discussed downtown development and Main Street programs.

According to Dr. Toma’s figures, the county’s population growth since 2001 has been steady, reaching 5 percent in 2005 and hitting 2.7 percent in 2009. The county’s growth rate from 2007-09 has eclipsed that of both the Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area and the state.

While wages have decreased and have lagged behind the Savannah MSA and the state’s, Effingham’s unemployment has not been as high as that of the Savannah MSA and the state. The county’s jobless rate, as low as 3.4 percent in 2007, was 8.7 percent for 2010. There are just under 26,000 people in Effingham County with jobs, down from more than 27,500 in 2008.

Toma said consumer confidence, business at the port and hotel room sales are positive signs for the metro Savannah economy, but retail sales and employment continue to be slow. He expects employment to recover slowly through early 2012 and housing will still be “bouncing along the bottom.”

Nationally, a less than 1 percent growth in the gross domestic product shows a weak recovery and the Savannah private sector’s expected growth of .75 percent will be modest.

“We’re going to be digesting everything that was worked on and putting it back out to the group,” said Chamber Executive Director Rick Lott, “which is something we failed to do last year, so that we keep the group talking. I think that’s going to lead to a good effort.”

Lott also was heartened with the turnout and the level of participation from those who made the trek to the Golden Isles.

“I’m very encouraged and very pleased with how the retreat went,” he said. “We had a good group once again in spite of the economy and in spite of the impending bad weather. This does give us the opportunity as a community to focus on a set group of ideas and to be at least for a few days on the same page together discussing the issues.”

Graham, in her first retreat as Chamber president, also was encouraged by the level of unity displayed by retreat participants.

“Everybody is getting along,” she said, “and we’re heading in a much better direction than we were five or six years ago.”

Lott also noted the similar views held by the retreat attendees and how they saw those plans being achieved.

“We do all want the same kinds of things to happen for the county,” he said. “By being able to come together and focus on these things and have dialogue, it really does help. Without a vision, the people perish, and I’m a big believer in that. If we can have a common vision, we can reach that common goal.”