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Clayton seeking status as 'archway' community

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Technological assistance from Georgia Tech, branding and marketing advice from Georgia State University, and government resources from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia all could soon be available to Clayton County.

On Tuesday, the University of Georgia selected the county as the fourth community in the state for the Archway Partnership Project.

The project is designed to take a community's needs and connect the community with the university system. Clayton will get support economically, logistically, and technologically by leveraging the resources of all of the state's public colleges and universities.

While all parties involved are in agreement, a "minimal match" of funds must be met by various entities of the county before the partnership is formalized, according to Kim Siebert, director of the UGA/Clayton County Cooperative Extension Service.

"Everybody was at the table today and said 'yes,' so it looks very positive," Siebert said.

"The Archway professional acts as an archway between the community and the resources of the university system," said Siebert. If all goes according to schedule, starting in July, an Archway professional from UGA will be placed in the community to identify and prioritize problems facing the county.

After a community board prioritizes needs, the project will act as a pipeline between the county and field experts seeking to apply their skills outside of the classroom.

"We have all been charged with getting our boards to buy into the Archway Project," said Clayton Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell. "It has a potential to aid us on many fronts."

Bell said the partnership may work to improve the county's image, improve information technology, and create more cohesion between Southern Regional Medical Center and the Clayton County Board of Health.

"We worked very hard on this," said Bell. "It think its an opportunity such that Clayton County has never had before."

The first Archway Project started three years ago in Colquitt County, Ga. -- a rural county faced with growing pains from a rapid increase in population.

Archway professionals used UGA's Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering to start a waste water management project, and its Housing and Demographics Research Center assisted in a survey to clarify the changing housing needs of Colquitt County. UGA also enlisted a student from the School of Environmental Design to create a suitable entryway design for the county's industrial park.

"It was good for the student, because it provided him with a meaningful project and it was good for the community, because it gave them a better product," said Mel Garber, director of the Archway Partnership Project. "They had a need and we had an interest, so that came together.

"Through this process, we make it easier for faculty with interest in the community to get involved," Garber continued. "It ensures that the students are working on really important things. Both the students and community can benefit from that."

Garber said Colquitt, Glynn, and Washington counties -- three other Archway communities -- are either rural or coastal communities, and Clayton will provide a chance to apply the program in an urban setting for the first time.

Siebert said one of the unique features of the Archway Partnership Project is it "requires that the entire community is on board" and a "minimal match" of funds from participating entities. The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, Southern Regional Medical Center, and all seven county municipalities are expected to participate.

"I think it will be excellent for the community," said Siebert. "It's a valuable resource, because in its structure, it requires the community to come together to move forward," she added.

"We need to change the perception of what Clayton County is representing," said Ekberg. "It has a great personality, but its being overshadowed right now. We just need to shine the light in a different direction. It will be a huge source of informational resources for this county," said Ekberg, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

"The thing that I like most about it is that it allows the community and community leaders to be involved in the solution," said Clayton Commissioner Wole Ralph. "It is not a solution being handed down ... it is really a bottom-up approach."

The partnership would move the county government toward a "professional structure" and allow the county to review case studies of "high-performing governments and what they do," Ralph added.