Albany Welcome sign (file photo)
People moving into Dougherty County over the last several years have come to a pleasant discovery as they’ve settled into their new homes: Not many places in the state, and certainly none in Southwest Georgia, offer the quality of services provided in Georgia’s 16th-largest county (by population).
Dougherty County and its county seat, Albany, are among a handful of locations that carry a “2” Insurance Services Offices rating, leaving homeowners with some of the lowest insurance rates in the state. The rating is a byproduct of the Albany Fire Department’s efforts, and the department has expanded its improvements into many sectors of the unincorporated portion of the county.
Along with the county’s sheriff’s department, Dougherty County and Albany also maintain separate police departments, as do the Dougherty County School System, Albany State University and the Marine Corps Logistics Base located in the county.
The county also is home to Code Enforcement and Animal Control departments and maintains its own landfill. Separate county and city Public Works departments maintain street and sewer systems over the 328.69 square miles of the county and the 55.3 square miles bound by the city limits.
With the acquisition of the Hospital Corporation of America-owned for-profit health care facility formerly known as Palmyra Medical Center, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital has not only expanded its footprint in the city and county, its role in the health care of Southwest Georgia has increased significantly.
The Marine base, Phoebe, the county’s 16,000-student school system, Procter & Gamble and MillerCoors remain among the largest employers in the county. The U.S. Census shows that 37,187 workers were employed by 2,455 nonfarm business establishments and 6,892 total firms in the county. Of those, 34 percent are black-owned and 33.7 percent are woman-owned.
A number of organizations are working to close the racial divide in Dougherty County and Albany, but census figures show their efforts are getting mixed results. Blacks make up 67.5 percent of the county’s population 2010, and a large portion of the city’s and county’s residents in the black community live below the poverty line.
Median household income in the county, according to the census, is $32,364, some $17,000 less than the state average. The median income in the city — $30,000 — is even lower. The median value of owner-occupied housing units is $102,100, more than $61,000 less than the state average.
Age disparity in the county is significant as well: More than 25 percent of the county’s 94,501 residents are under 18 years of age, while 12.5 percent of the population is 65 years and older.
Albany State, Darton State College and Albany Technical College are working to provide empirical and technical training for the area’s work force, which has seen unemployment remain above 10 percent for the last several years.
The Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission has kicked off an initiative to return to the basics — retention, recruitment and renewal — of economic development in an effort to chip away at the unemployment figures. The initiative will, for the first time, bring business leaders and other citizens onto committees to work with the EDC in developing ideas that will help in all three areas.
While surveys conducted by the Economic Development Commission show that businesses like the infrastructure, transportation system and low cost of living in the county, socio-economic factors — mostly based on race — and an underperforming school system are concerns that have proven to be detriments.
The city and county have made strides to improve their reputations as business-friendly by beginning work on a new industrial park that will open soon and by creating, with credits owed the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, a “deal-closing fund” of up to $30 million that will offer businesses monetary incentives to locate here.
With the two-time arena football league champion Albany Panthers drawing crowds to the Albany Civic Center, continued growth of the Snickers Marathon Energy Bar Marathon/Mardi Gras weekend in the early spring, and upgrades at destination sites such as the Flint RiverQuarium, the Thronateeska Heritage Museum and the Albany Civil Rights Institute, Dougherty County and Albany continue to be the region’s destination for fun and entertainment.