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Bringing growth to Bulloch, Statesboro
Chamber, Development Authority work together
PEGGY CHAPMAN FOR BIZ
Peggy Chapman serves as president of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Development Authority of Bulloch County. Chapman said the unparalled growth of Statesboro and Bulloch County has resulted in an expanded role for the chamber. - photo by JAN MOORE/staff
   Statesboro and Bulloch County's tremendous growth over the last several years is unparalleled in its 200-year history.  Georgia Southern University has grown beyond expectations and the industrial park has blossomed. The local business community is thriving, and downtown Statesboro continues its resurrection.
    During this historic period of expansion, two local organizations have had a tremendous influence working together to effectuate positive change and prosperity.
    Although one is a private, non-profit organization, and the other is a publicly funded governmental entity, the Statesboro Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce and the Development Authority of Bulloch County are housed under the same roof and are overseen by the same person, Peggy Chapman.
    Chapman serves as the president of the chamber and executive director of the development authority.
    "Depending on the size of the city and county, there are a lot of places where the two entities are separated," Chapman said. "Here, it has worked well to this point."
    Chapman acknowledged that it is a little confusing when she tries to explain to people the different roles of the organizations.
    "The chamber is a private entity that is supported and funded by local businesses to help and promote the business community," she said. "The development authority is a publicly created entity that is put in place to lure industry to this area which in turn creates jobs for our residents."
    As Statesboro grows, the demands on the chamber have increased beyond what chambers have traditionally done in the past.
    "Statesboro is growing and the needs of some of our chamber members have changed," Chapman said. "Many of our members have built retail developments here in the last several months and there is a lot of space available for lease. They wanted help from the chamber to fill those spaces. So, we put together a demographic guide that they could send to respective tenants."
    It wasn't too long after the guide was compiled that Chapman was invited to Georgia Power's booth at the International Council of Shopping Centers southeastern conference in Atlanta held this past October.
    "Retailers come to these conferences to see what expansion opportunities are available," she said. "Georgia Power invited us to be in their booth and use our materials to solicit retailers for our empty shopping spaces. It was a great opportunity."
    Selling a community on behalf of its members has become an integral part of the chamber's mission.
    Robin Spratlin is the general manager of economic development for Georgia Power. She said communities can't expect industries and retailers to just show up anymore. They have to be sold on both the area and the state as a whole.
    "As we try to lure industries and development to Georgia, communities are the product that we have to sell to these companies and industries," Spratlin said. "The communities have the leadership, the products in the form of industrial parks and retail developments, as well as the workforce development."
    Spratlin said it depends how the development arm is structured in a community as to whom Georgia Power works with in trying to bring new business to an area.
    "We do work hand in hand with development authorities and chambers of commerce, it just depends on where the economic development arm is located," she said. "In Statesboro, the development authority and the chamber do an excellent job. They are outstanding. I am never concerned when I send a prospect their way."
    Chapman said the role of development authorities in general, has remained the same - generate new jobs by helping existing industry expand, and bring new industry and economic development to an area. However, she said the role of the chamber, at least in Statesboro, has evolved.
    "Traditionally, our role at the chamber has not been to solicit new retail business to this area," she said. "It has been to support local business, to help it grow and expand."
    "People need to understand that Statesboro and Bulloch County have really grown and that growth has created opportunities for retail development," she said. "I have commercial developers calling or visiting on what is now a regular basis."
    "They are looking for information about the community and our job is to point them in the right direction and answer any questions that they might have. I am not surprised at the interest in Statesboro, but I have to admit that it takes me aback at times."
    Chapman said it is not the role of the development authority to entertain retail developers. County Manager, Tim Couch, oversees the funding of the development authority and he agrees the mission of the two is very different.
    "The county provides funds out of the general fund for the development authority to carry out activities for industrial development, recruitment, retention, and expansion," Couch said. "At this point, we are able to contract with the chamber to provide those services."
    "We have a very, very active chamber compared to most communities," he said. "I think over time maybe even another generation, as Statesboro and Bulloch County continue to grow and the competition for industrial prospects intensifies, the lines between the two entities will become less blurred  and demands on each may become such that they need to be more separate in some way. But right now, this model has served the community well."
    As it stands, the development authority focuses on industrial prospects while the chamber hosts retail developers interested in building in Statesboro.
    Chapman addressed the question on the minds of many  Bulloch County residents. Is Statesboro getting a new grocery store?
    "Not that I am aware of at this time," Chapman said. "I know how much this community wants another grocery store option because I am asked several times a day about it."
    "What I can tell you is there is more than one commercial developer actively seeking locations to construct a large retail development here in Statesboro," she said. "I can also tell you that the anchor store that they would like to have in their development is a grocery store. When that will happen is anyone's guess, but to my knowledge, nothing is firm at this time."