Columbia County and city leaders seized an opportunity to brag about their communities during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting Wednesday.
"Columbia County is doing great," Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. "It is not just because of government. It is because we've got great people."
Cross said the county's recently earned AAA bond rating helps the county borrow money at better rates and offers more opportunities for growth. The rating is a sign of the strength of the county's government, citizens and businesses, he said.
"It is not just a reflection of the government and the management of the county," Cross said, "but it is a reflection on the entire county. It is a reflection on the business community."
The county is experiencing significant growth, Cross said. Construction has started on Building C of the Evans Government Center and the new Health Department and Animal Services building. Work on the Evans Town Center Park will start soon, he said.
As more people and businesses have moved into the county, the overall crime rate has decreased since the election of Sheriff Clay Whittle in 1995, sheriff's office Capt. Bill Probus said. The population has risen by 32 percent in that time while the overall crime rate has dropped by 24 percent.
Much of that decrease has to do with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the way it operates, Probus said.
"But a huge part of that is our involved citizenry and our involved business community," Probus said, adding that community policing and partnerships in the community make controlling crime easier. "We're not going to ever do this alone."
Things are good in Grovetown, too, said Mayor George James.
The city is experiencing an influx of new residents and a surge of residential construction. In the past decade, James said, almost 2,000 new homes have been built in the city and three new developments and two apartment complexes are in the planning stages.
"The growth is taking over there in Grovetown," he said.
The city battles growing pains associated with that growth, such as current upgrades to its water and sewer system.
James said city officials are working hard on revitalization efforts to create a city inviting to businesses.
But, James said, what he is really proud of is how city officials have overcome a rocky working relationship with other county leaders.
"We probably have the best relationship ... right now than we've had in a long, long time," he said. "We work really well together. We can do a lot more together than trying to do things separately."
Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper said his city isn't experiencing quite as much growth as Grovetown, but city officials are very focused on managing that growth.
"We feel like we have a great little community," Culpepper said. "But our objective and our challenge is, as we grow, to keep it as the kind of community that people would live in and be proud to say they live in Harlem."
Several projects for the downtown area are aimed at making the city more business-friendly, he said. These include renovation of the former Columbia Theatre, the development of a downtown park and pavilion and work on a public safety building.
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