Clayton set to re-chart economic development strategy

JONESBORO — Clayton County is kicking off development of its first economic game plan in 13 years with a public forum July 19 at Clayton State University.

Citizen input there will lead to nine months of work to determine how Clayton can take advantage of resources like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the county’s interstate connections, said Jason Chernock of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. The institute, which spearheaded similar efforts recently with Paulding and Troup counties, will manage Clayton’s initiative.

“A lot of other communities would love to have what Clayton has,” said Chernock, who cited Hartsfield, Clayton State and the county’s dedicated water supply as assets. “There’s a lot to build on to.”

The county’s last strategy was developed in 1999 by Market Street Services, a private consulting company. Since then, the economy has slowed, unemployment has risen and real estate values have declined, presenting new challenges for developing a new strategy.

Even without those factors, Clayton hasn’t always cashed in on having Hartsfield in its back yard. That fact was thrown into sharp relief by the Atlanta Regional Commission’s launch last month of a task force to figure out how to harness Hartsfield for economic development in the Southern Crescent. The ARC project is not connected to this project, which is specific to Clayton.

Still, a new plan would have been necessary whether past efforts had been successful or not, Chernock said.

“It’s going to change because the economy has changed,” he said. “Even if (previous economic strategies) had been wildly successful, it would certainly be time to look at this again.”

According to a Clayton press release, next week’s forum will start an “eight-step planning process” that will include interviewing stakeholders, engaging Clayton State and performing a target industry analysis.

A steering committee led by Yulonda Beauford of Clayton’s Chamber of Commerce and Larry Vincent of the Clayton County Development Authority will guide the effort. Clayton State will also be represented on the steering committee.

Chernock said the enthusiasm of local leaders for this effort is another Clayton asset.

“You can really feel the desire for this to turn out well,” Chernock said. “Larry and Yulonda have been working with me every step of the way.”

The kick-off meeting will be held Thursday, July 19, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Clayton State’s Harry S. Downs Center for Continuing Education in Morrow. It will be facilitated by economic development experts from Georgia Tech. Light refreshments will be provided.