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Sam Perren

The McDuffie County Chamber of Commerce held their State of the Community event Feb11 in a virtual format. The event was streamed live on the Chamber’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel.

There were six guest speakers for the event. Those speakers were Sam Perren, from the UGA Archway Partnership; Bob Kepshire, the University Hospital McDuffie administrator; Mychele Rhodes, superintendent of McDuffie County Schools; Kenneth Usry, mayor of Thomson; Sean Kelley, mayor of Dearing; and Charlie Newton, chairman of the Board of Commissioners in McDuffie County.

Perren was the first person to speak, and he talked about UGAs partnership and work with McDuffie County.

“The Archway partnership is part of public service and outreach at the university,” Perren said. “You may be familiar, the university has a three-part mission of teaching, research, and service.”

According to Perren, Community Image and Communications, Economic Recovery, Education and Workforce Development, Health and Wellness, and Leadership are the main priority areas for the Thomson-McDuffie County area.

Community Image and Communications is to promote the community and create a unique brand. It will also help build a plan for Downtown Thomson.

Economic Recovery is to improve the local businesses and shop locally, and to identify new opportunities for businesses in the area.

Education and Workforce Development is to let students know about employment in Thomson-McDuffie County area. This will also provide workforce quality to employers in the area.

Health and Wellness are going to address the food insecurity, promote healthier lifestyles, and positive mental health.

The Leadership goals will be to create an advanced program, include more diversity in leadership, and support leadership and the youth leadership, according to Perren.

Kepshire was the second speaker at the State of the Community event. He spoke about the health and medical areas of McDuffie County.

“If I could sum up the health concerns for this past year, I think we could say it in just two words, COVID-19,” Kepshire said.

Kepshire spoke a lot about COVID-19 and the effect it had on the Thomson-McDuffie County areas. He also talked about the negative effects the pandemic has had on the hospitals, but the University Hospital McDuffie is not in danger of closing.

“University Hospital McDuffie continues to set a positive example on how to operate as a rural community hospital,” Kepshire said. “We really are a standout in the state with how to do things the right way”.

According to Kepshire, there was a spike after the Fourth of July, but then it calmed down a little bit during the fall months and picked up once again during the holidays.

The community can help out by receiving healthcare service from the University Hospital McDuffie. Patients can receive hospitalization, outpatient services, and surgical services, according to Kepshire.

Rhodes talked next, as she spoke about the schools in McDuffie County. She talked about how schools have gone to virtual learning during the past year and what the schools have done to try and keep everyone safe from the pandemic.

"The vision of our school system is to not only prepare our students to go into post-secondary options, but also to prepare them for careers,” Rhodes said.

According to Rhodes, the Strategic Plan of the McDuffie County School System has four goals. Those goals include Student Achievement, Organizational and Operational Effectiveness, Human Resources Development, and Stakeholder Engagement.

Rhodes also discussed the precautions they have taken when it comes to COVID-19 and making sure the staff and students are being careful and safe. McDuffie County Schools have face masks, hand sanitizer stand, and six feet markers to indicate where students and faculty should stand.

“I’m very proud that we have instituted as a school system, we purchased bipolar ionization units throughout the district,” Rhodes said. “These are now in all seven facilities and in the central office”.

Mayor Usry was next to speak at the State of the Community event. He spoke about numerous things in the city of Thomson. He spoke about the budget, the new city administrator, the new transportation tax, the Brickyard Project, and the sewer commission.

According to Usry, the city ended the year with all funds being in a positive position. The budget for 2020 was $19.7 million dollars. He spoke about John Waller being named the interim city administrator. The new transportation tax was approved, but it will not start until 2023. Roughly $34 to $35 million dollars will go back to the city and county to help improve roads and other things in the community. The Brickyard Project will be underway soon, and it has been a long time coming. There will be $16.6 million dollars will go towards sewage for upgrades and improvements over the next 5 years.

“We’re anticipating a lot growth coming our way and we’ve got to maintain what we have and prepare for the future,” Usry said.

Mayor Kelley was the fifth guest speaker at the State of the Community event.

“Things have been going great in Dearing,” Kelley said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of activity with the growth at Fort Gordon. We’ve been getting a lot of interest in housing; everyone saw that he other week when that came up”.

According to Kelley, Dearing has put in roughly $4 million dollars into commercial development with the Dollar General and the Family Dollar. The skateboard park is being heavily used by the citizens.

“It’s been an interesting year with COVID and everything going on, but fortunately it looks like our restaurants not only survived but they have been thriving,” Kelley said.

Lastly, Chairman Newton spoke at the State of the Community event. “COVID has sort of dominated the conversation here today, and for good reason,” Newton said.

“As far as COVID, I’d like to show another shout out to the McDuffie County Health Department, they’re doing a great job getting out vaccines now that they are available”.

Newton commended David Crawley, the city manager of Thomson, and the work he’s done this year.

Next, Newton spoke about the 2021 projects. According to Newton, the northern bypass is currently underway.

There is a Wrightsboro Road sewer project that will be in the Ridgeview subdivision and the subdivision comprising of Pope, Crawford, and Short. There is also a bid package being put together to pay Carolyn Lake Circle so those dirt roads can be paved without spending a lot of money.

Rebuilding the concession stands at the baseball fields is also on the agenda. The last thing Newton talked about was the broadband initiative to provide the community with high-speed internet.