Short-term issue resolution plans were not the only ones on the table during the Liberty County-wide Planning Workshop, which was held March 28-30 at the King and Prince Golf & Beach Resort on St. Simons Island.
Creating a civic center or meeting space, building the community’s image so senior management and military leaders will choose to live in Liberty County and health care were identified as issues that need to be addressed in the long term.
Civic center/meeting space
Participants identified the need for a meeting space within Liberty County as their top long-term priority.
“What is it about the civic center that’s so important to you, and why was it such an overwhelming vote?” University of Georgia Fanning Institute facilitator Skip Teaster asked while leading a small discussion.
Liberty County Development Authority board member Robert Stokes and Flemington City Councilwoman Gail Evans both said a meeting space that can accommodate conferences is needed more than a large civic center.
Leaders said the community needs a place of its own to conduct workshops, host banquets and hold private events, such as weddings. Currently, Club Stewart is the sole venue of its type and capacity, they said.
“I’m a little concerned about us duplicating efforts,” Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said. “The school system is already working on … we will have by July this year, somewhat of a conference center-type set-up at the Performing Arts Center.”
Currently under renovation, the former campus of Brewton-Parker College on Highway 84 in Flemington will have an auditorium with 250 seats, a meeting room with a capacity of 250 and an industrial kitchen. It will be available to the community on a fee structure, Scherer said. In the future, the building will have a 1,000-seat auditorium.
However, since the building is owned by the Liberty County School System, alcoholic beverages cannot legally be served there.
The only long-term priority the group set out to handle during the meeting was the idea of image-building.
The issue was introduced in the form of a question: Why don’t senior-level employees of the local industries and higher-ranking officers on Fort Stewart choose to live in Liberty County?
During the course of discussion, several participants offered anecdotes and insight into how the county is portrayed — both by members of the community and third parties online.
A common picture emerged. Many said that real estate agents or others recommended they live in other communities, while others said the area’s income and education statistics are not impressive on paper.
Facilitator David Hooker challenged the group to consider whether there is an inaccurate portrayal, or whether there is an accurate portrayal that is unflattering.
To take steps toward mollifying the issue, the group challenged several leaders to conduct research on how other areas — specifically military communities — have overcome similar reputations, and then to propose a way that the community can better present itself.
Many participants cited health care as an issue, though in discussions there was a lack of agreement over what the issue entails.
Some said misperception clouds the reputation of Liberty Regional Medical Center, while others said there needs to be better knowledge of available practitioners and their capabilities.
On March 28, Coastal Health District Health Director Dr. Doug Skelton briefed the group on the status of health in the county.
Liberty County’s causes of death are in line with the national ones, — such as heart disease, cancer and injury — but he cautioned the area to keep an eye on was weight.
“Overweight and obesity: What can I say about that?” Skelton said. “You need to pay attention to that. That’s going to cost you money, that’s going to cost you ill-health ... ”
He said companies considering where to locate facilities take overall health snapshots and obesity rates into consideration and often opt for areas with lower rates.
“Our obesity rates are too high for adults; they’re really too high for children — and those costs are costs that are going to be passed on to health insurance,” Skelton said. “These things have consequences above and beyond the health consequences of the individual and the family.”