Clayton County residents discuss ways to improve economic development in the county during a strategic planning forum hosted by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
JONESBORO Rex resident Linda Slagle sees the recent woes of Clayton County Public Schools as a barrier to economic development in the county.
While several school systems in the Atlanta area have had their fair share of scandals over the years, Clayton County is the only one that has found itself facing three accreditation crises in the last 10 years. One of those crises even led to the district losing accreditation for nine months.
Each time, squabbling amongst school board members has been at the center of the troubles.
“Right now, people across metro Atlanta are laughing at us because of our school system,” said Slagle, a 25-year resident of the county.
Fifty residents, like Slagle, got to have their voices heard during the second public input forum for a proposed county-wide economic development strategic plan. The forum was organized by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.
Georgia Tech Project Manager Jason Chernock said he and his team will take the residents input from Thursday, as well as resident input from a forum held last month, and combine it with input they have been gathering from officials across the county for the last few months. That input will be used to craft a new strategic plan for economic development in the county.
Chernock said the plan should be ready for public presentation within a few months. He also said he and his team have been seeing common threads in the input.
“It’s been pretty consistent,” Chernock said. “We’ve pretty much been hearing the same stuff at this forum that we heard at the previous forum. And, we heard it during our interviews around the county before that.”
Georgia Tech officials put out poster boards for residents to write down what they felt were Clayton County’s weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Consistent themes on the “Opportunities” board were Clayton State University, tourism, services for senior citizens and the location of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the county.
However, one common thread was that people saw the Clayton County legislative delegation as both a weakness and a threat to economic development in the county.
Low home values, a lack of public transportation, poor race relations, poor communication and inadequate recreation and development programs for children and teenagers were also listed as weaknesses.
Residents listed “the people of Clayton County” as both an opportunity and a threat to the county.
The residents also had several suggestions for improving the county, such as improving the quality of life, strengthening existing businesses, developing consensus among different groups in the county, addressing the public transportation issue and focusing on the county’s image.
Chernock told residents the easiest way to grow Clayton County’s job base is to “support the businesses that are already here.”
However, some residents said county and city governments need to help by being more business-friendly when handing out business permits.
“I think we need to streamline the permitting process to make it easier for businesses to get a permit,” said Jonesboro resident Joel Trout. “If you are going to make it difficult for new businesses to get a permit, why are they going to want to relocate to our county?”