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Archway professional charts new course for county

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After months of interviews and community vetting, the University of Georgia, the seven municipalities of Clayton County, and a list of community stakeholders have selected Gail Webb as community liaison for the Archway Partnership Project (APP) in Clayton County.

Armed with a background in economic development, Webb said she is ready to connect the county to the resources at the University System of Georgia, and to establish a steering committee of county residents to prioritize Clayton's needs.

"If you can get a county with all of the resources that Clayton County has and get them to work collectively with one vision ... it is going to be the model for the region and the country," said Webb. "We don't want to reinvent the wheel. We just want to bring all of the resources together to improve Clayton County."

Before being appointed as the county's official Archway professional, Webb worked in the Governor's office for seven years, helping minority-owned, and female-owned businesses in metro Atlanta succeed by teaming them with larger, more established businesses. Webb's previous titles include regional project manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development and director of the Governor's Mentor Protégé Program, from 2006 to 2008.

Webb, who resides in Gwinnett County, started her first day as the county's Archway professional on June 23. She said she is excited for the chance to work with an entire community on fixing problems, rather than a segment of it, as in her previous positions.

"It was an opportunity to work with economic development, community development, and business development all at the same time," said Webb, of her new assignment. "It really is a community driven project. The community will make the decision on the priorities that Archway will help them with."

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

While Webb admits Clayton County's APP is "a different animal" than previous Archway communities, she believes the program will succeed by giving existing community groups the tools to solve problems in a more focused way.

"The image [of Clayton County] is much worse than the reality, and that is the problem," said Webb. She said the program will take an executive committee composed of a handful of community leaders and team it with a steering committee of a dozen or more citizens to identify the most pressing issues impacting the county. Issue groups will then be established by the committees to effectively solve problems. The University System of Georgia will provide support along the way.

"If [an identified problem] was branding, we would not just be able to get them students from UGA, but also Clayton State students to assist them in a marketing plan," said Webb. "If they wanted to hire a public relations firm, then we would possibly help them evaluate those firms.

"The success of the program is based on community involvement," Webb added. She said the APP will vote on Steering Committee members Aug. 27.

Kim Siebert, director of the UGA Cooperative Extension Service in Clayton County, said the APP is "coming together as expected."

"The right partners are at the table. They have begun to meet. With the assistance of Gail [Webb], they will begin the discussion," said Siebert.

"We have meetings, we talk about things, but we need to get things done," said Webb. "We have to be results-oriented, and that is where the Archway project will be key."

For more information on the Archway Partnership Project, go to www.archwaypartnership.uga.edu, or call the Extension Service at (770) 473-3945.