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Retreats conclusion may spur action
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When the Effingham Chamber of Commerce gathers for another community retreat, they hope to recount the progress made on a number of goals.

The Chamber will draft a letter to local governmental entities, outlining its aims and how it hopes to accomplish those objectives. Attendees at last week’s retreat expressed frustration over previous retreats and the lack of progress made on some of the plans resulting from the meetings.

“They’re eager to work, and that’s exciting,” said Chamber president Talbert Edenfield. “I think the key with this group is to show up a year from now and see that we are moving forward and that we’re not spinning our wheels. I think that’s the key, to move each initiative forward so that we can be accountable to our membership and our community.”

Attendees repeated the desire for local governments to work together, and Rincon’s recent purchase of 20 acres could open the doors for a partnership with the Chamber. The city bought the land with the purpose of providing an event venue, and it may become home to the annual Oktoberfest. This year’s event, set for Sept. 28-29, is at McCall Plaza.

The Chamber has asked Rincon City Council and the Effingham County commission to enact a hotel-motel tax, with the proceeds going to bolster local tourism efforts. The Effingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has had its incorporation lapse, and the Chamber executive board may meet to discuss working jointly, perhaps even becoming one joint venture.

Retreat-goers agreed the Chamber should be the parent organization for any visitor center, and attendees also pointed to any person hired to spearhead tourism efforts should be given authority and accountability. The state’s tourism development team, in a visit to Effingham earlier this year, recommended hiring a full-time person for tourism. How to fund that position was not identified.

Chamber members and others discussed the need to solve the county’s transportation woes and pushed for replacing the overpass at Interstate 16 and Old River Road. That project also may help spur development at the Industrial Development Authority’s I-16 tracts.

Also listed as a goal was workforce development, as was continuing to grow the local commercial and retail sectors.

Dr. Michael Toma, director of Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Center for Regional Analysis, said Effingham’s economy should be rebounding. The low point of the recession, the worst since the Great Depression, came in 2010, and the recovery has been sluggish.

“Typically, we expect to see more rapid growth coming out of a recession,” he said. “It’s a slow, very constrained recovery. It looks like we’re just not going anywhere. There are some encouraging signs. It looks like the rest of the year we’ll continue to improve. We’re seeing some improvement in economic conditions and some momentum building in our regional economy.”