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VSU program helps rural counties grow

New institute inspires economic development
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Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 30, 2022

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — An inaugural institute at Valdosta State University is inspiring ideas for future economic development. Organizers said it’s a win for VSU’s students, faculty and the school’s mission to serve South Georgia.

Like the train tracks connecting communities across South Georgia, the inaugural rural development institute at Valdosta State University is connecting communities with new resources for economic development.

“I sit up late at night looking at ways to help and build and do things for Mitchell County,” shared James Eubanks, executive director for the Mitchell County Development Authority.

He was born in the county which has seen a decline in population from 21,755 in early 2020 to 21,521 in July of last year. With that slight decline, he’s now working to attract new businesses and new neighbors to the county and communities within it like Camilla.

“If we could wave a magic wand, we would really like to see more industry,” Eubanks said. “We’re very big in poultry right now, pecans, peanuts, cotton.”

Eubanks added community development, housing, schools and businesses are also a big priority. They are hoping to build a stronger foundation for industry in the future.

“You have declining populations in many areas. Everybody has workforce issues,” explained Darell Moore, director of the Center for Regional Impact at VSU. He was instrumental in organizing the event. “I think there were a lot of light-bulb moments,” Moore added.

He and his team of experts and mentors worked to inspire 9 rural communities from across Georgia. The groups are taking home lists of projects and initiatives that experts and mentors here helped them develop.

“It’s very fulfilling,” said Mill Graves with Retail Strategies. He was brought in to help communities like Camilla look for ways to bring more business to downtown areas and replace open store fronts with new opportunities.

“There are a lot of unique assets about the state that make it a great place to live and rural Georgia is a big part of that,” Graves added.

“We’re seeing a lot of new industries with blueberry, citrus and produce,” continued Eubanks.

That agriculture is growing in addition to three major industrial parks across the county ready for development.

VSU said the Center for Regional Impact will use university faculty and students to help each community with at least one of their projects in the months ahead.