ATLANTA – Two dozen budding business and civic leaders gained firsthand information about statewide issues Wednesday when Leadership Columbia County traveled to the Capitol.
The class members, along with some community sponsors, climbed aboard a bus at 6:30 a.m. at the Columbia County Library. With them were members of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Education and the Commission, including a few graduates of the two previous classes who have gone on to win elective office.
“Each one of them are leaders in their own right,” said Chamber President Tammy Shepherd of the current class.
The nine-month class includes bankers, lawyers and junior executives with both small businesses and some of the county’s main employers. It is sponsored by the chamber and funded partially with the students’ tuition of $900, or $100 less for chamber members. The rest of the funding comes from companies that kick in, such as AT&T covering the cost of the trip to Atlanta.
Chief Magistrate Judge Bobby Christine organized Wednesday’s activities. He invited the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, speaker of the House, commissioner of economic development, business lobbyists and local legislators, including Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans.
Harbin told the class that many Columbia County natives were fixtures at the Capitol as key aides and lobbyists. He talked about the importance of education funding, especially for universities.
“Higher education will benefit all of us in our area,” he said, highlighting Gov. Nathan Deal’s goal to make Georgia Health Sciences University one of the country’s top 50 medical schools.
Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, represents part of Columbia County. She talked about the work of the House Small Business Committee, which is searching for ideas on how to enhance the atmosphere for job creation.
The members of the class could do some teaching of their own in Atlanta, she said. “I’d like to have you come and testify and say what is impeding your business or even putting you out of business,” she told the class.
The point of the day-long session and others like it is to expose members of the class to issues important to both the local community and the state and how they’re intertwined.
“That’s important for them to learn all the different pieces,” Shepherd said.