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Retreat strikes a chord of cooperation
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ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Community, business and political leaders gathered Thursday and Friday to map out a far-reaching and long-range vision of what they think Effingham County can be.

The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the annual retreat, held at St. Simons Island’s King and Prince Resort, with a different approach this year. That was possible, retreat attendees noted, because the level of comity across the different entities is greater than ever before.

“The extending of the olive branch in willingness to work with one another was overwhelming,” said county commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler. “I felt very prideful that a lot of our vision and goals are very similar.”

Said Stan Sparks, chairman of the Chamber’s governmental affairs committee: “We’ve been doing this for a number of years now. I feel there’s more positive energy and more teamwork in the community than there ever has been. I feel it was a productive day and a half. We were able to talk about issues that are common to the county as a whole and put some forward looking visioning behind them and put together some action items that are going to benefit the community.”

Among the key issues ahead for the county are quality, growth and transportation. Each of those were further broken down into areas to address. For transportation, participants listed a master plan for the transportation advisory board, the proposed east-west corridor through the Research Forest Tract, the Effingham Parkway and the Old Augusta corridor.

Growth issues included funding, master planning, zoning and the Census. Quality of life matters included recreation and leisure services, a countywide park, tourism events, gateway appeal and a best practices/critical access hospital.

“Everybody’s been talking about working together. There’s been a real spirit of camaraderie over the last couple of years,” said Effingham IDA CEO John Henry. “This gives us the opportunity to put pen to paper and to identify things we can work together. This allows us to start some implementation of working together.

“Now that we’ve all agreed to work together, we’ve got to decide what are we going to work together on.”

Retreat participants, under this year’s theme of “Vision Effingham,” also received a regional economic outlook from economist Dr. Michael Toma, the director of the Center for Regional Analysis at Armstrong Atlantic State University. They also heard how Greenville, S.C., home to BMW, Michelin, Fluor and Bowater, has transformed itself and how Brunswick reshaped its image.

“This is a great opportunity,” Henry said of the Chamber’s retreat. “I see this as a beginning of identifying what the community needs are and what our goals are going to be over the next 10-20 years.”

Funding for many of the goals, however, is viewed as a significant hurdle. But that shouldn’t deter the group from thinking boldly, Zeigler said.

“Funding is always the biggest challenge,” he said. “You don’t want to stifle a good vision with the idea of funding. We’ll go back and figure out how to fund all our great ideas.”