Whitby: Macon-Bibb needs to ‘reimagine our community’

ATLANTA -- A meeting of some of Macon-Bibb County’s key civic leaders on Thursday reached a tentative consensus: It’s time for more unity and cooperation to “reimagine” the community.

That’s the word chosen by Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority.

“Let’s empty our cup and reimagine our community, what we want to leave for our children,” he said after the first day of a day-and-a-half retreat held by the development authority at the Loews, an Atlanta hotel.

A meeting of Whitby’s board involves some of Macon-Bibb’s top leadership, including Mayor Robert Reichert, Macon Water Authority Chairman Sam Hart and Macon Economic Development Commission Chairman Walt Miller.

Also at the retreat were two county commissioners -- Virgil Watkins and Larry Schlesinger -- Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce leaders; James Bumpus, director of Macon-Bibb’s Small Business Office, and others.

At the end of a day of discussion and brainstorming, the leaders decided Reichert will convene leaders of their respective organizations when they face a “macro” problem that needs to be fixed for the benefit of the entire county.

But “macro” is not yet defined. It may mean something too big for the county or any of the authorities do alone or involve an issue in which all the groups share a common interest or priority.

“We have to have a discussion on what it is,” Whitby said. “Is it (the proposed lengthening of) Sardis Church (Road)? Is it Westgate (Mall)?”

At 5 p.m. on Thursday, the group did not attempt to define the “macro” issues of common interest just yet.

But there’s “consensus on the need ... that’s a huge start,” Reichert said.

One thing leaders think they need to do is work the state of Georgia and Macon-Bibb’s lawmakers for help with things of common interest such as money for fixing the interchange of interstates 75 and 16.

“All the attention goes to Atlanta and north Georgia. That’s where all the money’s gonna go and we sit here fighting in little groups,” said Mike Dyer, president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and the Macon Economic Development Commission.

They even talked about hiring a lobbyist in Atlanta, following the example of places like Fulton and DeKalb counties.

The industrial authority holds a strategic planning retreat every five years.

Whitby said that in five years from now he wants to be able to report that Macon-Bibb has cut down on infighting and can “truly speak with one voice.”