House Speaker David Ralston on Monday said rural Georgia can’t afford to wait for the next election to find progress and solutions.
“Rural Georgia cannot wait on political seasons to come and go because they will always come and go,” the Blue Ridge Republican told the first meeting of the House Rural Development Council. “I refuse to allow any personal ambitions to get in the way of what we are doing.”
The House created the council this past legislative session to identify problems facing rural areas and develop solutions. In the years since the end of the Great Recession, rural areas have struggled.
Rural counties had just 22 percent of the state’s jobs in 2014, according to a 2016 Georgia State University study called “Jobs in Georgia’s Urban and Rural Regions and Counties: Changes in Distribution, Type, and Quality from 2007 to 2014.”
Authors Peter Bluestone and Mels de Zeeuw found that the Atlanta region and the state’s 13 “hub cities” saw 90 percent of all job growth from 2007 to 2014.
At its first meeting here, council members heard from leaders of small rural towns and counties who acknowledged similar challenges: under-performing schools, lack of infrastructure, threatened or non-existent health care facilities, and lack of opportunity.
But, those local officials were warned, despite Ralston’s promise, that solutions won’t come quickly.
“We are going to make a very concerted effort to deal with a lot of issues,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla, the council’s co-chairman, said. “This is a two-year task.”
Still, Ralston said, the council’s work, and the plans it develops, are crucial.
“Your zip code or your county of residence should not dictate your lot in life,” he said. “Moving to the big city should not, cannot be the only way to get ahead.”