Cultivating prosperity in North Georgia rural communities, compared to the state’s larger cities, requires a completely different approach, Republican State Sen. Steve Gooch and State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper believe.
During the Georgia Chamber’s Rural Prosperity North Georgia Forum on Tuesday, July 23, at the University of North Georgia, the two shined light on the types of strategies needed to further economic development in rural communities.
Dennis Chastain, president and CEO of Georgia EMC, moderated the panel discussion, placing focus on health care, education and workforce development.
Before attempting to bring industry into a small community, Gooch recommends identifying a vision. For Dahlonega, its vision includes tourism.
Gooch encourages rural towns to have a relationship with the Georgia Economic Development Association and state agencies to get on developers’ radars.
“I believe the state needs to reach out more in rural areas and do a better job with that,” Gooch said. “We’ve got to work more in partnerships to help advertise and market these rural areas.”
However, he said these communities shouldn’t solely rely on “big government” to fix their issues.
“They’ve got to step up and provide the infrastructure, they’ve got to have access to the internet,” Gooch said.
Jasperse, who serves as the chairman of the Georgia House Education Committee, said community members need to put pressure on education leaders to meet workforce needs.
This could entail bringing in more digital learning opportunities and mobile laboratories, which offer science education resources to communities.
Gooch has already seen a transformation in education, mostly with the way students learn.
“My kids do more learning on their hand-held devices than I can ever imagine,” Gooch said. “We need to unleash this innovation and this technology, and bring those resources to the homes, to the kids...I think we’re holding back opportunities to thinking we have to structure it the way it has always been done.”
Through examining health care in Georgia, Gooch said he doesn’t see anyone addressing the core problem.
“The cost of health care is an issue,” he said. “Access would be more available if people could afford it.”
Like many rural hospitals, Gooch said the medical center in Dahlonega, now called Northeast Georgia Medical Center Lumpkin, struggled for years. Northeast Georgia Medical Center and the University of North Georgia breathed life back into the facility.
He said the university is leasing the building to Northeast Georgia Medical Center for three years. Once the medical center builds its new facility, Gooch said the university will bring nursing and therapy programs to the older hospital.
“Rural hospitals are in trouble and they’re going to continue to suffer,” Gooch said. “But, if we can get some of our universities and some of our agencies involved and try to partner with some of those community hospitals, we may be able to save them.”