To combat the economic decline in the midstate during the past few years, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is hoping to jump-start economic growth in the region.
In this case, the foundation has enlisted the aid of JumpStart America to come up with a master plan that will stimulate growth in Bibb, Baldwin, Crawford, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach and Twiggs counties by encouraging entrepreneurship and working with area colleges and universities to retain their best and brightest after graduation.
Beverly Blake, program director for the Knight Foundation in Georgia, said the foundation wrote a small grant to bring in JumpStart, which has boosted growth to economically depressed parts of Ohio for nearly a decade by taking a regional approach rather than working on a city-by-city basis.
The plan is an outgrowth of Knights College Hill 2.0 plan that has accomplished some of the same goals in the College Hill Corridor in Macon -- making the area attractive to entrepreneurs. Blake compared the goals of the plan to the Research Triangle in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
(JumpStart) wants to take advantage of the strengths we have, she said. Theyre all about harnessing that energy and goodwill.
Officials from JumpStart spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday traveling through all eight counties and meeting with all the stakeholders necessary to ensure the projects success -- government leaders, the business community and economic development organizations.
Because of the heavy influence of five area colleges -- Mercer University, Middle Georgia State College, Wesleyan College, Georgia College & State University and Central Georgia Technical College -- JumpStart wants to utilize those schools to stimulate growth as well, said Stephen Berger, JumpStarts CEO.
When the organization began in 2003 in Cleveland, Ohio, that region had seen the number of headquarters of Fortune 500 companies drop from 45 to nine. JumpStart was founded to help identify entrepreneurs and provide them with the money and experience necessary to grow.
Berger said JumpStart helped 70 companies in Ohio directly with $25 million in investments, and assisted more than 350 companies in that area with knowledge and advice. Combined, all of the companies have raised $1.3 billion in investment capitalization and created more than 6,000 jobs.
Middle Georgia will be the 13th region that JumpStart is working with, Berger said.
The aspirations are to make entrepreneurship the driver of the economy, he said. We want to change the conversation around entrepreneurship so that people are talking about it and know about it.
JumpStart will spend the next few months gathering data and interviewing stakeholders, including previous entrepreneurs in the area to learn what obstacles they faced.
Berger said JumpStart will offer in May or June some pilot programs designed to spur entrepreneurship in this region. By the end of the summer, JumpStart will make its recommendations and put together business plans for future start-ups that will use resources within the eight-county area.
Were a catalyst, Berger said. Were not going to solve the whole problem, but we will be part of the solution. ... You can build momentum, which creates more activity. Thats a good thing.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.