Press Releases

Q&A with Lisa Collins

Blakely, GA—April 19, 2006 — When you talk with Lisa Collins you get the feeling that you have known her for a long time. Her sincere demeanor immediately sets you at ease. Her approach to her job conveys a certain confidence and certainty that she has a strong desire to help and will work in partnership with the community to create new opportunities for everyone.

The South Georgia native recently took over as Project Manager for the Early County 2055 (EC2055) revitalization project, which kicks off on May 7-16 with a week long schedule of community meetings focused on everything from traffic and affordable housing to zoning, building codes and regional environmental quality. The community is invited to participate in the meetings and share their ideas and perspectives regarding the development strategy.

The Early County 2055 planning initiative is being made possible through a gift from the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation. The goal of the plan is to support the community efforts to preserve historical and natural area resources while developing a long-term growth strategy that will ultimately result in a diversified economic structure and master strategy for the future.

Ms. Collins, who previously oversaw UPtown Columbus, Inc., a non-profit, economic, revitalization organization in Columbus has the responsibility of organizing and implementing the revitalization master plan for Blakely and Early County Georgia. The goal is to preserve the historical foundation of the area while energizing its economic base.

Ms. Collins shares the vision of the Rice Family and others in Blakely and Early County to create a healthy business climate for the area while preserving its historical legacy. Here she shares her thoughts about the short and long term planning effort.

Q. As the new Project Manager of Early County 2055, what are your impressions about the revitalization effort and the opportunity for the community to participate in positive change?
A. There are many communities across the country that are experiencing economic challenges because of the overall change in the marketplace and the gradual decline in population because of urban migration. Only a handful of these communities have the opportunity that Blakely/Early County has to change, and to focus on bringing people back to the area to live and work. Right now the Early County 2055 initiative is a vision for growth and prosperity. As a newcomer, I see an excited and energetic community that I am looking forward to working with to strengthen Early County's roots — its heritage and culture—while stimulating its economic base for the future.

Q. What exactly is Early County 2055?
A. Early County 2055 is a 50-year revitalization program for Early Country and Blakely, GA. Its purpose is to create a healthy business climate for the local community, enhance the quality of life for local residents and sustain growth for the city of Blakely and its surrounding county. The program was initiated by the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation of Atlanta, GA, which is providing a generous grant to fund the first step in the program and set up the funding mechanisms that will ensure long term success for the project.

Q. Can you explain why the Rice Family decided to fund the planning effort?
A. Charles Rice is the founder of Barton Protective Services Inc., which was an international security firm headquartered in Atlanta, GA. He grew up in Blakely, GA, where his parents settled in the 1930s. He met his wife Catherine there and their son, Barton, spent many of his summers visiting his grandparents. Because of their strong family history in Blakely and Early County, the Rice Family wants to provide the area with an opportunity to prepare for the future, and to grow and prosper through new economic opportunities.

Q. When does Early County 2055 get underway and what can the community expect to happen during the upcoming event?
A. The planning portion of EC2055 will kick off April 29-30 with an economic visioning work group, followed by a weeklong planning session —the Charrette Process — May 7-14. A "charrette" is a collaborative method of planning that entails participation and input from the community. We will hold a series of focus groups and town meetings to get local input about what the county and city needs and what the key points are regarding the revitalization effort.

These meetings will involve the entire community and be led by PlaceMakers, the Miami based land planning and development advisory firm. The community's involvement is vital and encouraged. We will post the details about the meetings and charrette as the date gets closer, but I can't over emphasize more how important it is for everyone to participate, attend meetings, see the work in process, ask questions, voice concerns and offer ideas.

Q. What is your role in the Early County 2055 plan?
A. Once our economic visioning and plan are developed, my role will be to break down the specific objectives of the plan into short and long-term strategic activities. The public and private sectors will be involved in working on various task forces and committees to implement the strategies we have identified. I want to emphasize that the community is the key participant in this effort. We need everyone's help to make this work. The PlaceMakers group will be here to gather information and develop a workable Master Plan with goals to be achieved by the people in Blakely and Early County.

Q. What will your responsibilities be — both short and long term?
A. Specifically my job is to facilitate the planning and implementation of the PlaceMakers' Master Plan, which will be the result of the upcoming planning week. My part in this process is to make sure that the pieces are in place to accomplish the objectives the community has developed through the PlaceMakers process. In addition, my responsibility will be to supplement the grant that the Rice Foundation has generously given to Blakely and Early County. The goal, as I see it, is to bond the community together, to help existing industry grow and expand, to attract new industry and to make Early County a destination of choice for people looking to relocate for a better quality of life.

Q. Why is this an important initiative for Early County and Blakely, GA?
A. Early County and Blakely, GA were built on an agricultural economic base in the late 1800s. Cotton and peanuts were the primary crops and the area experienced growth and prosperity for years. Then with the introduction of technology, there was a profound economic shift away from the agrarian system of farms to a more diversified structure that includes manufacturing and service industries. The area, like most rural communities, has not kept up and many local residents have moved to cities to make a living. This type of project is vital to the long-term health of rural areas and will focus on critical issues such as job creation, building an educated work force, meeting diverse population needs and capitalizing on local resources and assets.

Q. Is it really possible to revive the area?
A. Absolutely! It has been done before and all indicators say it can be done here too. There are many benefits to living in this area of Georgia. This is a charming, close-knit southern community in a great location, with a low cost of living and a rich heritage. According to the US Department of Agriculture statistics there is a change in migration patterns. Some rural area populations, once declining, are seeing an increase in populations. Professionals are looking for a richer quality of life without the hassles of city living are moving into rural areas like Early County. We want to take advantage of the trend by offering newcomers a place to live, work and raise their kids.

Q. What will be the long-term process? How will you keep this effort going for the time it will take to bolster the economy?
A. The plan is to get everyone in the community involved in the strategic process to rejuvenate the area. The project will focus on 1) developing a long-term vision that builds upon the existing strengths of the area, 2) crafting a physical plan that will help the community realize its vision, and 3) generating a successful blueprint for executing the plan. Once the initial planning process is over there will be a strategic plan that can be implemented over the next five decades that will have relevance to the current residents of the community, as well as bring funding and business into the area.

Q. Do you have any other thoughts?
A. I am happy to be a part of such an important and worthwhile project and I am looking forward to working with the people of Early County in preparation of a great future.

To learn more about Lisa Collins, read her bio.