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Cedartown Successful in Civic Engagement Efforts

November 7, 2014
Cedartown residents actively participated in the city’s strategic plan process.

Cedartown is the kind of place where residents care about their community and haven’t been shy about expressing how they feel and being involved. But previously their concerns often weren’t focused, according to one official.

However, a project started in this northwest Georgia city a year ago has galvanized the community and brought about results that have continuously stunned its city manager.

Through the Downtown Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning Workshop, sponsored by GMA, and with the help of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Cedartown has created a strategic plan. The process for developing the plan involved a series of community forums, a community survey and one-on-one interviews.

“What was amazing to me—and I have been in municipal government for over 30 years—most of the time you have a pretty decent group the first time, then it starts to fade,” said Bill Fann, city manager of Cedartown. “Every time we had a meeting more people showed up. The important factor was getting the right people involved in the very beginning.”

Some 50-75 residents attended each forum and 1,200 people completed the survey (which was printed in English and Spanish) in this city of approximately 10,000, he said.

“I thought 300 to 400 [responses] would be fantastic,” said Fann of the overwhelming interest in the survey.

“I think the city was ready for something like this,” he said. “I think the timing was just right for a project like this.”

The strategic plan covers a range of areas and the 16-point action plan includes such initiatives as a First Fridays event, Gallery Walk, Youth Main Street Advisory Board as well as expansion of the city’s streetscape project.

One of the projects that was rolled out in May of this year and already has impressed Fann is the Cedartown Biz Builder program. Through the program budding entrepreneurs receive six months college-level education in how to start and run a business as well as counsel from established business owners. Students also are given an opportunity to pitch their ideas for a business to a panel with cash awards as prizes.

Cedartown invested $10,000 in the program and awarded 12 students scholarships worth $750 each. (Two other students wanted to be in the program so much that they paid their own way.) The students graduated and will be awarded certification on Nov. 13, 2014.

“The premise being that educated business owners with a solid business plan increase their chance of survival in today’s market,” explained Aimee Madden, Cedartown’s public information officer. 

Fann and Madden said the students have come with viable business ideas.

“One student wants to open an event center for children’s birthday parties, another wants to open an indoor sports training facility,” shared Madden. “One of our students already owns a successful hair salon and now, he wants to expand. Another student wants to take the vacant Moore’ Soda Fountain, partner with a restaurateur and use the second floor as a B&B for those folks utilizing the Silver Comet Trail.”

Fann said there’s a “good possibility” that at least two of the student ideas are likely to become real businesses soon.

“This has well exceeded my expectations, and I think everybody’s just been amazed,” said Fann.

In fact, progress has been moving along so quickly on the strategic plan action items that officials have had to slow the pace because there are “so many going on at the same time,” explained Fann.

One project that was not slowed is the Big Spring renovation project, which was kicked off Oct. 18. Big Spring is the city’s water source.

“We’ve been trying to do it for 20 years,” said Fann. “Now we are going to do it."
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