ALBANY — The Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission voted Wednesday to commit an additional $200,000 of its reserve funding to implementation of Phase I of a communications plan to improve the image of Albany developed by Atlanta-based Lattimer Communications.
That company’s principle, Sarah Lattimer, and members of her staff offered a detailed overview of the “community perception” plan that they have developed since being hired by the EDC in July of 2013 at a cost of $150,150.
“We allocated $200,000 in funding to hire Lattimer, and $150,000 of that money has gone to the agency,” interim EDC President Justin Strickland explained before the board voted to approve the additional funding. “That leaves us with $50,000 to implement a plan that has a $269,000 budget. If we approve the additional $200,000 in funding, that will allow us to move forward with Phase I of the plan and to possibly start looking at Phase II.”
Phase II of Lattimer’s plan includes shifting a positive perception of Albany and Dougherty County beyond Southwest Georgia to include central Georgia as well.
Approval of the additional funding means Lattimer Communications will continue to work with the EDC through the end of this year at a cost of an additional $45,000.
Lattimer told the board her agency’s plan centers around the working concept “Albany, This Is Our Town.” Through an integrated media campaign, Lattimer hopes to “shift the conversation from apathy and negativity to a sense of pride.”
Local focus groups convened by the agency indicated a number of community-wide concerns, including lack of jobs, “cliquishness” and cronyism, a lack of solid leadership, poverty, crime, racism, undervalued and underutilized equities, and “a K-12 education system that has serious issues.” Lattimer said the education component is vital to improving Albany and Dougherty County’s self-image.
“If we don’t get that fixed, a lot of what we do will be for naught,” she said.
After presenting a possible Phase II budget, which would reach beyond the accepted boundaries of Southwest Georgia to include the Macon, Columbus, Valdosta and other ancillary state markets and cost an additional $250,000, Lattimer said it’s important to improve the community’s self-image first and then start working on outside perception.
“You don’t change people’s perceptions overnight,” she said.
When some board members questioned the campaign’s viability in bringing new business to the region, Strickland said that is not what Lattimer’s campaign is about.
“This is a perception-changing campaign, not a sales campaign,” he said.
Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany commanding officer Col. Don Davis told board members they shouldn’t overlook the importance of outside perception of the community.
“As the largest employer in Southwest Georgia and with a lot of personnel turnover, I constantly have people who have Googled Albany ask me, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ when they’re assigned to Albany,” Davis said. “There are a lot of good things going on in Albany, and that’s the message we need to get out there.”
Before the vote, City Manager James Taylor posed a question to the board: “Is there even a reason to (finance) a Phase I plan without considering Phase II?”
The vote to approve the additional funding, which EDC Chairman Jay Smith said would leave the commission with a reserve balance of $181,000, was unanimous. The long-term plan of the board is to immediately start looking for ways to finance Phase II of Lattimer’s plan.