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Archway Project charts course for Clayton County

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In July, the Archway Partnership Project (APP) was established in Clayton County in order to leverage the resources of the University System of Georgia to address the county's unique challenges.

On Wednesday, Gail Webb, the Archway professional assigned to Clayton, announced that an executive committee of stakeholders would meet this weekend at Clayton State University to identify the county's top five challenges. That information will then be used to "chart the course" of the APP as it addresses crime, economics, perception and other issues impacting the area, Webb said.

In Jonesboro, during a Wednesday afternoon meeting of the Rotary Club of Clayton County, Webb also announced that the APP's 50-member steering committee -- composed of representatives from the school system, county government, all seven county municipalities, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, and several local agencies -- will have it's first meeting on Dec. 17. The meeting will mark a significant milestone in the APP's progress in the county.

Webb said the goal of establishing the APP was to bring the major stakeholders together to address common goals, and that the program is doing just that. "When I first came to the county, there were a lot of people who said I will buy you a steak dinner if you can get all of the mayors, cities, and county governments together at the same table," said Webb.

"I will be collecting on those steak dinners. All the rumors that I heard before I came to Clayton, that the county is not one that works together, that's not true."

The APP was started in 2005 by the University of Georgia (UGA) to help communities faced with explosive growth, and other economic issues, by leveraging the expertise of the state's university system. While the program is currently in place in six counties and has been successful in rural communities, such as Colquitt, Glynn, and Washington counties, Clayton is the first urban community to which the model is being applied.

Webb said that in Clayton, the primary targets of the APP would be to address education, economic development, crime, foreclosures, transportation, business recruitment, and small business development.

Several initiatives to help the county have already been started, according to Webb. In order to help Clayton County Public Schools reshape their image in the wake of its loss of accreditation, the APP has assigned three students from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA to assist the school system in its public relations efforts.

Webb said that two of the students are Clayton County natives, and may be able to help highlight "some of the good stories" coming out of the school system.

"We also brought in the Fanning Institute to help [the school system] with their strategic plans," said Webb. "We are definitely hoping they will be proactive, instead of reactive. That's the goal."

Webb said she is also working on bringing the Georgia Work Ready program to Clayton County as a way to attract more large companies to the area. Through the program, businesses can rate the skill levels of county workers through a series of tests. The program will, in turn, offer gap training to residents to address any skill deficiencies.

Ron Corbin, president of the Rotary Club, said the Georgia Work Ready program may have a significant impact on the county's employment rate.

"A skilled and ready work force is crucial for any county, but especially Clayton County," said Corbin. "Whenever you can provide someone with new skills to be able to work within the economy ... you are increasing the overall attractiveness of the county."

John Thompson, superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, said the program would help the county develop "a strategic plan," and may also help the school system become more "transparent" and "engaging with stakeholders."

"We have to work together," Webb said. "It's not you and I, it's us and them. If we have that mentality in 2009, we can make a lot of positive changes in Clayton County."