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Mayor: Statesboro in best shape ever, poverty down but remains top concern
McCollar’s ‘State of City’ lauds job creation boom, youth programs
State of City
Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar delivers his 2024 State of the City speech Tuesday, Feb. 27 from the stage of the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

At the heart of his 2024 State of the City speech, Mayor Jonathan McCollar noted a big statistical decrease in poverty in Statesboro but asserted that eliminating poverty remains the city’s top concern.

About 150 people attended to witness the speech and larger program Tuesday evening, Feb. 27 in the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts, and others viewed via livestreaming.

“Statesboro, I am proud to submit to you tonight that the state of our city is stronger than it has ever been and the future is brighter than it has ever been,” McCollar said. “Six years ago and two months I was blessed to be given the honor of serving as the 21st mayor of my beloved hometown.”

Since he was first sworn into office in January 2018, the “city, state and nation” have undergone many positive changes but at the same time “have been faced with challenges that have questioned our resolve to live in a safe, healthy and inclusive city,” he observed.


Poverty rate down

As McCollar noted several minutes into his 28-minute speech, he had made reducing poverty a key plank of his first successful mayoral campaign. Re-elected in 2021, he has now passed the midpoint of his second term.

“I can recall vividly being on the campaign trail in 2017 and having a local reporter ask, what did I believe was the greatest threat to the city of Statesboro?” he said. “Without a second thought, I immediately responded with a single word – poverty.”

At that time, he noted, Statesboro’s cited poverty rate was 53%. That was from previous U.S. Census Bureau statistics and represented the percentage of residents with reported incomes below the federal poverty level.

“On day one, this administration made fighting poverty its number-one priority,” McCollar said Feb. 27. “We knew that this fight was not going to be easy. However, we understood wholeheartedly that this fight was going to be worth it, as many of the ills that our city faced and continues to face were and are rooted in the existence of what sociologists describe as systemic generational poverty. …”

“This evening, I am proud to announce that since the first day of this administration, the city of Statesboro has seen a nearly 30% reduction in its poverty rate.”

Not in the mayor’s speech: Based in a survey, the Census Bureau in 2022 estimated that 37.2% of Statesboro residents have incomes below the poverty line. That is 15.8 percentage points below the earlier 53% rate, but proportionally, yes, nearly 30% lower.

“What this means for us is that more of our neighbors are finding their way up the economic ladder,” McCollar said. “However, the fight is still not over. Our city’s poverty rate is still considered to be one of the highest in the state. We still have too many families in our city struggling to meet their basic needs.”

He noted the city government’s funding in late 2020 of the start of monthly free grocery distributions by the local charity Feed the Boro. With mostly private donations, the organization has continued its food drops and in January reached the milestone of the equivalent of 2 million meals distributed.

City Council and the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners also committed, together, $1 million from their federal American Rescue Plan Act grants to the construction, which the mayor said is nearing completion, of a $2 million home for the Statesboro Food Bank.

“This facility and its team will work to address the needs of those that are dealing with the ills of food scarcity on a day-to-day basis,” McCollar said.

But then he added, “In this fight against poverty, the greatest ally we have is the hope for a better tomorrow,” and went on to talk about the recent surge in residential and commercial development in the city and ongoing industrial expansion throughout the region.

“Understanding that one of the fastest ways out of poverty is to be a community that attracts well paying jobs, we continued our investment into the infrastructure that we see today, but we also began to craft policies that encourage business growth via our Tax Allocation Districts, a newly implemented Unified Development Code and increased opportunities for female- and minority-owned businesses,” he said.


Economic upsurge

Now, more than $100 million worth of commercial development projects are underway in Statesboro, McCollar noted. This is a total of estimates reported by developers in permit applications and preliminary conversations with city staff members. Meanwhile, 3,400 new housing units are in various stages of development in the city limits, he said.

“In addition to this growth, we are now part of one of the fastest growing economic regions in the nation,” McCollar said.

Of course, much of that growth is driven by the construction of Hyundai Motor Group’s Metaplant America, for electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, at the regional Mega Site in northern Bryan County. The plant is now predicted to begin production before the end of 2024 and to ramp up over several years to employ about 8,500 people on-site.

“There are a projected 23,000 jobs to be associated with the location of the Hyundai plant and several of its supporting companies to our region,” McCollar said.

“To date, we have five manufacturing and/or green energy companies that have relocated to Bulloch County which are estimated to generate some 1,700 brand-new jobs with starting salaries in the range of $50,000 or more,” he said. “So, if you are seeking new jobs that pay better wages that best support you and your family, then this is your opportunity to do just that.”

He also talked about commercial developments within Statesboro, from the West District, the Blue Mile and downtown to the Old Register Road Tax Allocation District and Georgia Southern University’s South Campus.


Youth programs

In his annual speeches, McCollar has always talked about youth initiatives, and several new have taken shape under the city’s sponsorship during his time in office.

This summer, the city government and cooperating employers will carry out the fourth annual installment of the Statesboro Youth Connect program, providing five-week, stipend-paid job experiences to a select group of teenagers.

Now, the city also has its Village Builders initiative underway. A paid coordinator and volunteers conduct resource days in targeted neighborhoods and are creating a mentoring program.

In the past year, the city launched a Youth Council, with high school students taking on leadership roles modeled on those at the city. In fact, Junior Mayor Chloe Jones, current Youth Council leader and Statesboro High School senior, spoke to the audience, introducing McCollar before he started his speech.

“And just this past January, the city of Statesboro received the Georgia Municipal Association’s Visionary City of the Year award for establishing Village Builders,” McCollar noted.

These youth initiatives and a neighborhood revitalization program are keys to the city’s continuing strategy to combat poverty, as McCollar sees it.

“However, there is so much more work to be done,” he said.

“Statesboro, we are losing too many of our young men to a school-to-prison pipeline that is fueled by failed academic progress, the inability to obtain needed resources, and an underdeveloped support services network within our community,” McCollar said. “As daunting as this work may be, I believe that if there was a community that can meet the challenges of saving our young people, it is ours.”

His speech was followed by a question-and-answer session, not with audience involvement but with questions put to him on stage by Whitney Lavoie, who is managing editor for Grice Connect, and Blake Robinson, Georgia Southern University Student Government Association president.

Then several special awards were presented.

A recording of the entire 110-minute program, which follows some introductory slide images, can be viewed via the “City of Statesboro Government” page on Facebook.
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