Perdue encouraged participants with his ideas on the challenges and opportunities facing rural Georgia.
He said the conference theme of "Positioning Rural Georgia to Prosper in the Global Economy" is not an option, but a must.
We do not have a choice of whether or not we will compete," he said. "We just can't check out, We are competing. We are in competition. It's a matter of whether we are going to lead the pack, survive and thrive, or whether we will be left behind."
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He said Georgia's economic strategy for the 21st century has three main components: supporting existing industry, encouraging entrepreneurship, and becoming a leader in creating and using technologies of the future.
"In rural Georgia, small business is the single largest source of job growth in the last five years," he said. "My goal in Georgia is to take micros and grow them to macros for the economic opportunity of Georgia."
Broadband access to rural areas
One initiative he is excited about is bringing broadband access to rural Georgia, he said.
"Global economy moves at the speed of light," he said. "Without reliable broadband connections, our rural communities will just get left further and further behind."
Gov. Perdue said he signed a memorandum of agreement Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will help increase access to broadband for all of Georgia.
"The state of Georgia will encourage local partners to take advantage of the Federal Broadband Access Loan Guarantee program," he said. "This program provides loans and loan guarantees for construction, improvement, purchase of broadband service and facilities in eligible rural communities.
"I am convinced it is one of the economic development strategies that will help grow these types of communities," he said.
The governor encouraged communities to begin programs to grow their own entrepreneurs, beginning in middle and high school.
"When you grow your own in rural Georgia -- grow them there, nurture them there and water them there -- guess what? They are more likely to stay there."
He also stressed the importance of developing agri-tourism and said he will make it his theme as chairman of the Southern Governors Association.
"America grew up on the farm. It continues to play an important role in our economy," he said. "With a society that is increasingly urban, suburban, ex-urban and every other kind of urban, there is a yearning among city folks for a direct experience with the land. We need to take advantage of that. It can be anything from school tours to hay rides to farms, that make you pick your own fruits and vegetables."
A regional perspective
Craig Lesser, new commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, heralded the gathering as a terrific event.
"All the people had the opportunity to gather together," he said. "It is great to get together, but it is more important to take some action items home with them."
He said the conference provided that opportunity.
Other conference workshops addressed a variety of topics, including innovative agriculture, environmental stewardship, entrepreneur and small business resources, tourism and marketing, housing alternatives, economic development, downtown and community development, quality growth, and historic preservation, among others.
Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said many of the sessions were outstanding, and she was especially impressed by one that dealt with critical job loss.
She said learning how a crosssection of communities work to improve large losses of jobs in their communities could provide her some new approaches to implement in Walker County.
She said many communities are strengthening the situation through collaboration and cooperation with state and local agencies, offering incentives, working with financial institutions, and assisting with the relocation of businesses into vacated business sites
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Tammy Cole, president of the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, said the conference provided a variety of new perspectives on a number of topics.
"I learned a lot about how communities similar to Catoosa have made success happen out in the tourism industry," she said.
Tim Hart, director of business and industry services for Coosa Valley Technical College in Calhoun, attended the conference from his home in Rome, Ga.
"The event was very informative," he said. "The panel format worked well for most of the workshops. It provided different perspectives on the subjects."
He said in one session he found it interesting how the much different communities of the coastal town of Brunswick, Ga., and mountainous Walker County were following a similar path to build growth through the total involvement of the community.
William H.H. "Bill" Clark represents Catoosa County on the Celebrating Rural Georgia council