As we enter the year 2022, I am filled with optimism and hope for all of us residing in Gilmer County. On behalf of the builder’s association, I would like to extend these same sentiments to everyone.
I don’t have to tell you that over these past months we have been through some tough times together, and still face many challenges ahead. Many of you are justified, and with good reason, to feel discouraged because of all the bad news we hear daily. Every one of us has been touched by COVID-19, which has left many devastated. The pandemic has led to a shortage of goods, and higher prices on almost everything we purchase. All of this with other disheartening news has left many of us saddened. Yet we here in Gilmer County have so much to celebrate.
As we welcome the new year, we find ourselves with unprecedented prosperity and unlimited possibilities. In other words, we find ourselves in a position that most counties would love to have. Let me explain why this is true.
A recent front-page story featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, dated August 20, 2021, reveals the deep economic depression being felt in many parts of our state. Statewide, 68 counties are undergoing significant population losses, with some as high as 25 percent per decade. Unadilla, located in Dooly County, once a dynamic community located near Perry, GA, is lacking growth in ways that hurt every person living there. These people, as well as those in many other neighboring counties, have experienced personally the loss of hospitals, businesses, and other institutions vital to a community’s health and wellbeing.
While walking down West Avenue, passing houses devoured by vines and weeds, Tony Lester, a county commissioner, said, “If people keep leaving, we are going to become a ghost town.” Dooly, like the other 68 counties in decline, would welcome any kind of growth. One resident said, “We enjoyed our sons visit this weekend, but like all the times before, he had to load up and drive back to Atlanta.”
Who would have thought that award-winning Calloway Gardens, located on Pine Mountain in Harris County, would ever have to struggle just to remain open? As Calloway Gardens flourished for years, the surrounding small towns in Harris and neighboring counties prospered with all kinds of shops, restaurants and “mom and pop” operations.
When the visitors stopped showing up, shutters started appearing and most of the small businesses went under. The Calloway family responded by drawing millions from their trust funds, selling off 4,500 acres, and putting another 2,500 acres of the garden on the market. In October of 2019, they announced an agreement had been reached with Herschend Family Entertainment to take over management. The new group announced this year that new attractions would be added which they hope will start bringing people back. Today hundreds of small towns in Georgia are facing the same drastic circumstances.
For years, we at the builder’s association have focused intensely on growth and in recent years have seen the resulting prosperity in our community. While we have contributed, we cannot take credit for our collective good fortune. Several leaders have stood out in helping lead us in our success.
First of all, we must thank our State Representative and Speaker of the House, David Ralston, who has been exceedingly generous to all of us with his time and helped our community in ways too numerous to mention. David Ralston has proven a strong ally for the people of Gilmer County.
We commend the Chamber of Commerce, President Jennifer Grimmer, and the entire staff, who on a daily basis work hard to ensure our community’s continued prosperity and growth. I cannot stress enough the exceeding effort they put forth in drawing tourism and filling our roundabout and businesses with people from over the southeast and beyond.
We salute Kent Sanford, the Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority. Kent has dedicated most of his adult life working for the betterment of our neighbors and community. Now more than ever he is on the front line promoting and recruiting businesses to take advantage of the opportunities in our area.
It would be inappropriate not to enthusiastically welcome so many of you who have moved here in recent years and joined us whole heartedly in our efforts to maintain a vibrant and growing community. You have opened a wide variety of new businesses and professional services. Many of you have agreed to offer your time in leadership roles energizing our entire community. The farming industry deserves special credit not only for their monetary contributions, but also for putting food on our tables.
Worthy of praise is the Gilmer County School System, our many local churches, civic groups, and elected officials who serve us daily and many times without receiving appreciation for their personal sacrifices and benevolence. Through their combined efforts and by their personal example, in good times and bad, they have been the pillar and rock of our community. They have taught our children life skills and how to recognize opportunities to achieve greater success. The churches especially have taught not only our children, but all of us, the principle of morality, values and stability. Together all of us are a team collaborating to promote economic and personal growth, leaving no one behind.
I pledge to all of you reading this article that those of us at the builder’s association will work to increase our efforts to sustain the opportune path we are on. While our primary focus as an organization is to promote building, we are committed to supporting others who contribute to our growth through whatever vocations you might have chosen, or whatever your dream may be. The better you do, the better we all do.
As one who grew up in Gilmer County and went to the Gilmer County School System, I dreamed of being able to stay here to work, which has become a reality for me. As a younger business person, I have thought and heard many people say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had enough jobs here so that our young people didn’t have to go away to find work when they graduate.” That is becoming a reality. But like many counties around our state, we can lose this momentum if we don’t manage it and work to sustain it. There is no neutral. We are either moving forward or backward. When we shut down growth, we also shut down business and new opportunities.
Do not misunderstand, we are not only for responsible growth, but also for a great economy for our entire community. Sometimes “we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone.” So, on behalf of all of us at the Builders Association, we wish for all of you a healthy and prosperous 2022.
President of the Georgia High Country Builders Association
Serving Fannin, Gilmer & Pickens counties