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In 2018, Stacey Abrams lost the Georgia governor race to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp by less than 55,000 votes – out of just over 3.9 million votes cast. If Abrams wants to win this time, she will have to perform marginally better in rural areas than last time, as Kemp and the Republican party in general has begun to dominate rural Georgia. Abrams is likely to win Georgia’s largest counties, Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett for example, but she overall won only 29 counties compared to Kemp’s 130. And a look at the map shows Kemp won more counties by a margin of at least 70 percent than Abrams won counties total. It would certainly help Abrams if she can narrow those margins by at least a few percent.
But Kemp is doing his best to tout his work in rural Georgia.
The latest news comes from the familiar economic development and real estate Site Selection magazine, which recently named the top 50 performing non-metro communities (read: “rural”) across the nation. Georgia had seven counties on the list: Appling, Bacon, Dodge, Elbert, Franklin, Hart and Union. Two of the counties placed in the top five overall.
Site Selection noted Georgia’s business-friendly environment, the collaboration between local communities and the state, and the “Rural Strike Team” Governor Kemp launched in 2019 as part of a campaign promise to help rural Georgia.
“It gives us somebody on the ground,” said Kemp. “We have somebody out there grinding away to help train the locals on workforce development, on how to get a project, how to convince people to come to their county, develop sites and infrastructure. What are the resources you need? How do we help?”
That Rural Strike Team acts as somewhat of a clearinghouse for state resources for rural development. The Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Global Commerce team, the Department of Community Affair’s (DCA) regional team, UGA’s Office of Public Service and Outreach, the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s (ABAC) Rural Prosperity Center, and others all bring pieces together to help recruit and develop business prospects.
A good example of the projects that help make a difference is the La Regina di San Marzano tomato sauce plant and the Inflex plastics plant in the city of Alma, Bacon County. To readers in metro Atlanta, the 350 jobs associated with these plants may sound like a drop in the bucket. But in Alma, with a population of approximately 3,400, those jobs can mean a big difference.
“We love it when we can have regional cooperation and one point of contact for multiple communities. When a company comes in, it knows that those jobs don’t stop at the county line. Those jobs are going to come from all across the region. That is a selling point in itself,” said Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson.
Expect a lot of commercials over the next few months selling the benefits Kemp has brought to rural Georgia.