Columbus leaders unveil 5-step plan to reduce poverty, spur economic growth

What’s Columbus 2025? We’ve got the answer.

Columbus 2025 unveiled Friday morning its vision for a better community and economic development strategy for the entire region.
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Columbus 2025 unveiled Friday morning its vision for a better community and economic development strategy for the entire region.

A group of prominent Columbus leaders — representing various sectors of the community — unveiled a plan Friday to spur economic growth and increase prosperity in the region.

The initiative, called Columbus 2025, was presented during a news conference at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. The plan focuses on five action areas: targeted economic growth; talented and educated people; enterprising culture; vibrant and connected places; and cohesive image and identity. Committees have been set up to implement each segment of the plan, and the results will be evaluated based on a series of baseline, best-practice metrics.

Those unveiling the initiative Friday were Billy Blanchard, partner and board member of Jordan-Blanchard Capital; Audrey Tillman, executive vice president and general counsel at Aflac; Jackie Lowe, a retired Georgia Power executive; and Jimmy Yancey, retired chairman of Synovus.

Blanchard and Tillman are chair and vice chair of the Columbus 2025 initiative, respectively. Tillman, Yancey and Lowe tri-chaired the Regional Prosperity Initiative, which served as the precursor to the current plan.

“I want to welcome you here for this launch of Columbus 2025, a very comprehensive strategic plan that will get us to another level as a city and region,” said Yancey, as he introduced the results after 18 months of planning. “It will transform this economy for another time. And transformation for this economy in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley and this region has happened more than one time in our history.”

Yancey reminded the audience of Columbus’ transition from an agricultural to a cotton mill economy in the late 1800s, and its shift to a military town in 1917 and then eventually to a more diversified economy. He said the region has been through many changes over the years, and it’s time to adapt to the 21st century.

“I think we all know that whatever made us successful is not going to make us successful going forward, that we need to change,” he said. “The concept that industry is looking for cheap land and cheap labor is behind us. What they’re now looking for is a workforce that is talented, that is educated. That workforce is looking for a place where they can live, work and play, and have fun doing it. And those are the places where industries are going to locate and where existing industry is going to expand going forward.”

As he spoke, the room was filled with city, business, nonprofit and educational leaders, many of whom serve on the project’s steering committee. Those in attendance included Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis, United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley President Scott Ferguson and Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley President Betsy Covington.

The Regional Prosperity study was conducted by a consulting firm called Market Street Services. The steering committee — made up of community leaders — analyzed information from dozens of one-on-one meetings, focus groups and more than 1,700 online survey responses from residents.

Blanchard said Columbus 2025 is a collective regional effort to address three overarching goals:

▪ Reducing poverty.

▪ Increasing prosperity.

▪ Improving the overall quality of life for people living in the region.

It was developed in the following four phases: competitive assessment; target business analysis and marketing review; community and economic development strategy; and implementation plan.

Blanchard described the five action areas used to implement the plan as follows:

▪ Targeted economic growth: Focusing on a renewed effort to grow existing business through a comprehensive and collaborative business retention and expansion effort; a comprehensive marketing strategy with a data-rich, GIS website; strengthening the partnership with Fort Benning to support growth at the military base.

▪ Talented and educated people: Aligning education and workforce systems through a comprehensive cradle to career initiative; tracking high school graduates enrolling in college and percentage of population enrolling in pre-K.

▪ Enterprising culture: Strengthening the culture of entrepreneurship and small business development in the Columbus area and expanding the resources available; creating a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs and identifying investor communities to support the incubation of emerging companies.

▪ Vibrant and connected places: Focusing on connecting people and places with expanded opportunities to walk and bike and use transit; promoting vibrant and attractive neighborhoods, corridors and activity centers, and maximizing the impact of the Chattahoochee River.

▪ Cohesive image and identity: Creating a unified community brand to enable the region to tell it’s unique story to the outside world.

For more information on the Columbus 2025 plan go to Columbusga2025.com.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter