It has been a year since leaders from Columbia and four surrounding counties started discussions and took the initial steps toward what would become the Clarks Hill Partnership.
In that first year, officials say cooperative strides have been made toward the economic development of McDuffie, Warren, Lincoln, Columbia and Wilkes counties.
"I think it's run very smooth,'' said Columbia County Commissioner Diane Ford, who has been involved in the process. "I think we're united and I think that's a big plus for us ...We blend. Creative juices get flowing and somebody will say 'Oh, I didn't think about that.'''
McDuffie County Manager Don Norton, who also serves as one of the county's representatives on the partnership board, agrees.
"Quite frankly, a lot of the first year has been spent getting the relationships set up," he said. "It's been very useful. Certainly, I think there's power in numbers. When you can get that many counties to agree on things, it sits real well with the decision makers."
Partnership members have discussed Lincoln County's lake convention center, Wilkes County's industrial sites by way of a One Georgia grant, Columbia County increasing ramp space at the lake for fishing tournaments and Warren County's frontage road on Interstate 20.
But the starting point for the group that meets quarterly was a paving and runway extension at the Thomson-McDuffie County Regional Airport through a Georgia Department of Transportation grant.
"All of those things are continuing to work, but the main thing we've been able to really see happen is the progress with the airport locally, here in Thomson," said Thomson Mayor and Partnership Chairman Bob Knox.
"It just was one of those high priority and high profile projects you might say that really and truly is a regional project," Norton said. "It's exactly the kind of thing I think the Clarks Hill Partnership was set up for."
Forward McDuffie Director Don Powers said the Clarks Hill Partnership is working on other smaller economic development initiatives as well. He said all five counties are pursuing certification as an entrepreneur-friendly community.
"Instead of one doing it, all five of us are doing it, and we're saving some effort," Powers said.
He said the regional approach to development is one that has been pushed in recent years by the state.
"Not only are we starting to try to think regionally, but the state - and in particular the funding mechanisms from the state - are starting to push the regional approach." Powers said. "...It's taking that kind of logic and making sure that the people who are funding these types of activities know that we're working together as a region rather than working independently."
Knox said the cooperative approach that the partnership is pursuing can only help all counties involved.
"The more we can do together, the better we'll be with a multitude of things later on, and I think that's been very positive," he said.
News Editor Preston Sparks contributed to this article
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.