Author: Mary Carr Mayle
With budget restrictions curtailing the state's ability to market economic development opportunities, four area counties have formed Savannah Gateway.
The coalition of Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty officials will tout the counties' attributes to site-selection firms and developers nationwide.
"The fact is, the state simply doesn't have the money to market like we used to," said state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.
"The greater-Savannah area has so much to offer, it only makes sense to launch a collective marketing effort," said Stephens, chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Lynn Pitts, senior vice president of Savannah Economic Development Authority, initially invited similar authorities in Effingham, Bryan and Liberty to join an informal conversation on how they could attract more attention to the area.
To that end, the group, with financial help from community sponsors, hosted a reception last month in Atlanta for commercial real estate brokers, developers and site-selection firms from throughout the Southeast to showcase all that coastal Georgia has to offer.
"It was a very successful meeting, one that produced a lot of bang for the buck," Stephens said.
Joan Herron, president of Herron Consulting in Atlanta, attended the reception with company director Bob Price.
"It was a great way to showcase what the area has to offer and allow a lot of people to make contact with the various communities," she said. "Taking a regional focus is definitely a step in the right direction. It allows you to make the most of your marketing budget while making it easier for companies to find you."
The group has a Web site and a brochure. The next step, Stephens said, will be to attend trade shows as a group and to market the area collectively on a global scale.
Economic development consultant Craig Lesser is working with SEDA to help with international marketing. To the extent that it fits with what SEDA has asked him to do, he plans to also market Savannah Gateway.
"Clearly, there will be some overlap," said Lesser, a former state economic development commissioner. "This is a very effective tool."
Lesser's successor, Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Ken Stewart, agreed.
"Savannah Gateway is really a brilliant move for that section of the state," he said. "Combining resources to present all that a region has to offer is definitely an idea whose time has come."