The recent 2011 community retreat was the 20th sponsored by the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce.
"The Chamber's intent in organizing the retreat is to provide a venue for discussion of current or potential issues and opportunities to enhance Bulloch County's economic vitality," said Phyllis Thompson, Chamber president. "The Chamber takes responsibility for creating a structure for each retreat that will lead to idea generation and support for mutual attainable goals for the public good."
Thompson said typically retreat attendees represent the city, county, schools and colleges, as well as not-for-profit entities such as the Statesboro Visitors and Convention Bureau and Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. A media representative is also included as a participant.
Local realtor Todd Manack, chairman of the Chamber board, believes it is very important for community leaders to take the opportunity to share their opinions and concerns.
"It really comes down to perspective," said Manack. "It is very difficult to appreciate all that an issue might entail until you get a number of perspectives about it. Then you are really able to fully understand what is involved. This format provides a great vehicle for gaining that perspective."
According to Thompson, topics that appeared to generate the most discussion at this year's retreat included development of the Highway 301 South/I-16 interchange; regional T-SPLOST; a multi-purpose venue for downtown, including the farmer's market; a possible arena located close to the university; expanding public/private partnerships; extension of the current SPLOST; and long term funding for the Bulloch County Development of Authority.
First time attendee Ashley Ellis said the retreat really opened her eyes to the future needs of the city and county, the importance of recognizing those needs, and developing plans to address them.
"I attended the retreat this year, because I am a Chamber board member and co-chair of Leadership Bulloch," said Ellis, who is also vice president of benefits for Blount, Burke, Wimberly, & Hendricks Insurors. "At this retreat, you quickly see how productive it is to assemble all of the entities that were represented in that room."
Thompson said being host for the retreat aligns with the Chamber's vision statement.
"The vision of the Chamber is for Statesboro/Bulloch County to be a regional center with a small town atmosphere and positive metropolitan advantages committed to an excellent quality of life," she said. "Having community leaders take a day or so away from work to discuss issues that affect that vision is certainly consistent with the role that we play in the community."
Bulloch County school board member Mike Herndon has attended the retreat for the last several years, and considers it a very important function.
"I feel that as an elected official, I owe it to my constituents to go to this retreat," he said. "There seems to be discussion each year about the pros and cons of having it out-of-town, but regardless, it is a very positive event that allows you to meet with and hear from city and county officials and find out what is going on. You can develop a personal rapport with others that are just as concerned as you are."
Thompson said no specific action plans come from the retreat, but participants tend to gravitate towards the discussion of issues that are important to them.
"I imagine that conversation among attendees will result in some type of action or planning at some point, but what that would be, I'm not sure, because that really isn't our role," she said. "Once people realize that their organization may have the same concern or goal as another, it is much easier for them to work together."
Manack pointed out that planning and project development occurs over a period of time that can involve several years or decades.
"At some point, Splash in the Boro was just a suggestion that blossomed into something that has become very important to our community," he said. "Discussing possibilities is a way to vet ideas in front of an interested audience sharing the same overall goal - creating the most prosperous and wonderful place to live that we can."