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County beautification, marketing under way
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This fall, area residents may see new branding for Liberty County and the communities it encompasses. Support for the brand will take the shape of community gardens, residential upkeep incentives and gateway makeovers if funding comes forward.
The measures are the fruits of image-building and aesthetics committees formed during the March Liberty Countywide Planning Workshop, and leaders met Wednesday to present progress reports.
The University of Georgia Fanning Institute facilitators who guided the workshop proposed a six-month follow-up meeting. Wednesday’s session came about four months after that mark.
Participants included representatives from municipal governments, the Liberty County School System, chamber of commerce and convention and visitors’ bureau, county and downtown development authorities and the planning commission.
Groups tasked with working on four issues each provided updates that show they’ve made varying degrees of progress. Presenters indicated that lack of funding and staff are the greatest obstacles to realizing their goals.

Beautification group advancing on gateways
The group that has made the greatest advancement toward its goal was tasked with beautifying the community and investigating possible gateway plans that welcome motorists into the county with a message.
Former Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver oversaw the gateway committee, which LCPC Planning Ddirector Rachel Hatcher presented.
“We have several different tasks that were identified, but they all work toward a common goal: making Liberty County and all of her municipalities more beautiful and helping visitors and people that work within that community understand how to reach that goal and to let people know they have arrived somewhere special,” Hatcher said.
The group had a March 2013 timetable for four steps and has accomplished the first three. First was calling a meeting with all mayors, second was identifying gateway locations, third was identifying partners and the final is finding funding.
While seeking funding, the group also is narrowing its concept for designs and will conduct a broad template in-house before seeking pro-bono services from architects and graphic designers.
The group has identified five key locations: Highway 196 West toward Gum Branch, Highway 84 at the west county line coming into Walthourville, Highway 17 at Interstate 95 outside of Riceboro, Highway 84 at I-95 in Midway and Highway 196 at Highway 17 near Bryan County.
Each location presents permitting and logistical challenges that need to be vetted with GDoT, Hatcher said, but the organization has committed to working with them to find solutions.
Keep Liberty Beautiful Executive Director Sara Swida was tasked with educating the community on beautification and the need for aesthetics. Swida summarized initiatives during the past year to encourage being a “good neighbor” and said that more will come this spring.

New brand slated for fall unveiling
Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole, Liberty County Development Authority marketing director Anna Chafin and Hinesville public-relations specialist Krystal Hart were directed to oversee image-building, which corresponds directly with beautification.
The women said they have sought guidance from other communities that have successfully repositioned their images, but they did not meet deadlines because two of them were on maternity leave last year. They have proposed a committee to steer discussions on branding.
In research, the women found that most communities have enlisted consultants at an estimated cost of $70,000 over about a years’ time. Instead, they presented a proposal that the three collaborate on building a brand and possibly enlist the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Product Development group.
Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards asked whether the objective is to simply unveil a brand or whether the idea is more complex.
“Image-building to me is much broader,” Edwards said.
“I think that’s a good point, and I think maybe the first step is branding — and that’s probably an attainable goal for us to reach in this calendar year, and then maybe going forward we can build on that …,” Chafin said. “Some people think that it is a tagline or a logo, but a brand is really what represents an organization, an entity, a community; it’s what you think about when you think about Liberty County.”
Commission Chairman Donald Lovette asked whether there would be an opportunity for the public to be involved in the brand building.
A vital aspect includes engaging the public, Poole said. They are planning a fall event to unveil the new brand.
“We hope the event for the reveal would create that synergy for the community,” Poole said.

Retail attraction group
Poole, Chafin and Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Vicki Davis also were tasked with spearheading retail-development initiatives, such as creating a creating a database within 60 days containing all commercial properties available and ensuring best-practices and incentives are used in attracting developers.  
While the database is in the works, the 60-day goal was not met due to lack of staffing, time and its feasibility.
As the Courier previously reported, the group has been successful in consolidating a community snapshot with comprehensive data that is available upon request from developers. They also have secured job creation state-tax credits through military and opportunity zone designations.

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