Clayton County Development Authority and the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce approached the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at Georgia Tech to develop a strategic economic development plan for the county. Together, the entities sought to convene a comprehensive stakeholder committee, which included local elected officials from county and city government, economic and community development practitioners, business representatives, educational institutions, county agencies, and civic institutions.
Like much of Georgia, particularly the metro Atlanta area, Clayton County experienced consistent growth in people and jobs in the 1990s. However, as a result of the economic decline, the in-migration of people slowed, and the demographic composition of the county has changed since the early 1990s. Like many communities, Clayton County has faced the loss of jobs from the recession, a slowdown in development, and declining real estate values. Additionally, it had been over a decade since all city and county-level community leaders came together to evaluate existing practices and develop a strategic framework for implementing economic development activities.
The Georgia Tech team used three guiding principles throughout the nine-month planning process. The first principle is that in-depth research would be used to gain the greatest understanding possible of the challenges and opportunities facing Clayton County. The second principle is that the community would be engaged throughout the entire process, and the third principle was that Georgia Tech would focus on identifying recommendations and priorities based on areas of broad agreement within the community.
EI2 developed an 8-step process to craft a strategic economic development plan for Clayton County, working with leadership from the county’s business, political, and civic sectors. The process included the facilitation of a steering committee of 40 representatives from over 30 area organizations, conducting over 70 stakeholder interviews, and gathering the input of an additional 115 participants in community forums. EI2 developed recommendations that had a broad base of community support, relied on extensive data analysis and in-depth research that pointed to existing gaps/needs, were tied to long-term goals, and would enhance the quality of life in Clayton County.
The process resulted in the development of an updated and coordinated vision and mission statement for economic development in Clayton County, along with a series of recommendations and targeted action steps designed to realize the long-term goals identified by the community. Long-term goals included: 1) improving the internal and external image of Clayton County; 2) developing better and broader relationships between the private and public sector in the county; 3) creating more opportunities for county residents to find and retain employment; 4) refining targeted industry sectors for business recruitment, 5) recognizing the importance of entrepreneurship and small businesses in the county; and 6) growing the impact of public higher education institutions on the county’s economic development, specifically that of Clayton State University – a key partner on the project. Continued interaction among the community stakeholders throughout the duration of the planning process assisted the county and its cities in developing a shared vision for the county, as well as fostering the development of stakeholder relationships necessary to move the plan forward.
“The development of this strategic plan is a positive step forward for economic growth and prosperity in Clayton County,” said Yulonda Darden Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. “This process will be collaborative and involve all sectors of the community. By working together we will strengthen our business competitiveness and future sustainability for our county.”