Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here and There

  • A study released yesterday by the Knight Commission has stirred interest among the editorial writers at the mighty AJC (even though they no longer distribute their paper to Athens). Jmac at Beyond the Trestle does a great job of dismantling the criticism. My point: even if the UGA Athletic Association and high end college sports disappeared tomorrow at UGA, would it do anything to improve the situation at UGA in terms of academics, revenues, budget challenges, etc.? Absolutely not -- in fact, it might make them worse.
  • Both Oconee County Public Schools were named to the Newsweek honor roll. Great news for our school system.
  • The bear is still around.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Candidate Choices

With early voting becoming increasingly popular, it makes less and less sense to delay endorsements until just before the week of the election. So, Voice of Moderation will make its picks in the Oconee County Board of Education, Oconee County Board of Commission, House of Representatives, and Governor's race in the next few days.

Readers should know that I will disclose any existing or past relationships I have with any candidates at the end of each piece that I write. This is a relatively small town, and having grown up here, being in politics and growing a business I have had the opportunity to interact with many of the candidates on a personal, political, and/or professional level. I don't believe these interactions have clouded my judgment, but I feel like they should all be disclosed so readers can take them into account.

As you make your choices, I would encourage you to visit the candidate websites (I will link the ones I can find in the stories -- candidates, send me a note with your website and I will add or include it).

There are numerous BBQs and events coming up where you can meet the candidates (including one this Thursday for Mack Guest at his office in Watkinsville, one on Friday at Veteran's Park for Tammy Gilland, and one next week at Harris Shoals Park for Hank Huckaby), or feel free to call or e-mail them with your questions. This is the time to interact with candidates and get your questions answered. Look for the first post tomorrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Movement on 316?

If you drive 316, you understand the irony in this entry's headline.

However, after years of inactivity on improving Highway 316 -- the four lane, at-grade access road connecting Athens to I-85 in Gwinnett County -- some momentum may be building.

Today, the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority -- a four county partnership between Gwinnett, Barrow, Oconee and Athens-Clarke -- announced it had received a $50,000 planning grant to help plan the future of the road (members of the GBJDA board are pictured at left on a tour of a site in Alabama). Their press release follows.

The creation of a nearly 900 person strong Facebook group seeking to turn the road into a limited access highway in the wake of another tragic death on the road is also refocusing public pressure on politicians to improve the road.

And they are hearing it. Hank Huckaby, arguably the front runner for House Seat 113, has mentioned improving 316 in several campaign appearances. His predecessor, Rep. Bob Smith, fought efforts to turn the road into a toll road, but did support creating a tax allocation district along the road to help fund improvements (the idea never took off).

It is great to see movement on this issue. A limited access University Parkway is critical to our region -- the current at-grade crossings are unsafe and encourage retail and residential development, not the high quality commercial and industrial buildings our region needs. In my opinion, a limited toll option should not be off the table if we want to get this done, but this may be a political non-starter. Time will tell.

The reality is that Gwinnett has the resources and political horsepower to upgrade all of its intersections over time. The other counties on the corridor have much less in the way of resources and influence with the GDOT and in Washington (despite the fact that Athens can claim three natives currently serving in Congress!). For now, our options are limited, but by working together over time the road can be improved.

Politics aside, this is a great show of regional cooperation, which will be a must to get this road improved. My old friend E.H. Culpepper is no doubt smiling down on the GBJDA!



(Lawrenceville, Ga., June 11, 2010) – The U.S. Economic Development Administration has awarded the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority (GBJDA) a $50,000 short-term planning matching grant to conduct an economic development study that will assist in the creation and implementation of a vision, strategic plan, and short term and long term goals for the development of the 316 Corridor.

“The short-term planning grant from EDA will allow us to conduct an economic development study of the 316 Corridor to determine what resources we currently have available and how best to utilize them to create high-paying jobs for Gwinnett, Barrow, Oconee, and Athens-Clarke counties. The 55 mile Corridor is important to not only the northeast Innovation Crescent technology area, but to the state. We have the potential to develop as a significant logistics corridor linking a network that can provide world class support of life sciences and technology based research, information, and manufacturing,” said Charles Bannister, Chairman of the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority and the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.” “The study is critical in creating a plan and process for setting development priorities and policy initiatives.”

As stated in the grant request prepared by Will Hearn of Site Dynamics, the objective of the study will be to record the best information on the 316 region and in particular the four counties that make up the Authority in order to understand the economic environment, compare the economic characteristics to other similar markets, and to develop a work plan that engages all parties resulting in technology-based economic development strategies.

A Request for Proposal will be distributed to potential study firms in late June. Study completion is targeted for fall 2010.

The twelve-member Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority includes the four counties of Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Gwinnett, and Oconee. The purpose of the Authority is to develop and promote trade, commerce, industry and employment opportunities for the 316 Corridor.

Description of photo attachment:
June 3, 2010 colleagues of the GBJDA participated in a familiarization visit to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology located in the Cumming Technology Park in Huntsville, AL.
# # #

Friday, June 11, 2010

Watch Your Picnic Baskets -- Yogi is on the Loose!

Just heard from Watkinsville Police Chief Lee O'Dillon that we have a black bear visiting Watkinsville. It was spotted two days ago crossing 441 into Harris Shoals Park and has was seen again in the area last night. According to Chief O'Dillon, the DNR is advising us to leave the bear alone and to let it wander out of the area, but please be aware as you walk, run, cycle or drive that we may have a friend in the neighborhood until he moves on. After the Mountain Lion that was spotted last February and the recent rash of Alligator Snapping Turtle sightings, we are getting to be a regular Wild Kingdom. Some safety tips can be found here.

Update: The Oconee Enterprise has posted a story.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Innovation and Israel

Am posting two recent outstanding national columns everyone should read.

The first is directly relevant to our region. Readers of this blog will not be surprised that it is from Tom Friedman. The basic idea is that new jobs come not from the government or big companies, but from new and mid-sized companies focused on innovation. An excerpt:

That said, I think part of the business community’s complaint about Obama has merit. Although there are many “innovation” initiatives ongoing in this administration, they are not well coordinated or a top priority or championed by knowledgeable leadership. This administration is heavily staffed by academics, lawyers and political types. There is no senior person who has run a large company or built and sold globally a new innovative product. And that partly explains why this administration has been mostly interested in pushing taxes, social spending and regulation — not pushing trade expansion, competitiveness and new company formation. Innovation and competitiveness don’t seem to float Obama’s boat. He could use a buoyant growth strategy.
Retiring State Rep. Bob Smith is one of the great champions of innovation in our region, and organizations at UGA like the bio-business center are also hubs of innovation. The Georgia Research Alliance (a client of my company) is also a key to Georgia's innovation strategy. Check out the full column here.

The second is not directly relevant to our region, but certainly is to the world. I'm guessing that many of you, like me, follow Middle Eastern policy issues peripherally if at all. I found this to be a succinct if one sided overview of the compromises Israel has made in the name of peace in the past decade, and where it has gotten them, and helps one understand why they are trying to keep this blockade in place, and why their enemies keep looking for reasons to incite violence to end it.

City Council Preview

The June meeting of the Watkinsville City Council is tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall. We are expecting a busy evening. With the political forum at 8 p.m. at Veteran's Park, it is likely that we will have several candidates stop by to visit (candidates always seem to appear in an election year).

Other activities planned will be a few business licenses, a building permit for a new 40 x 100 foot warehouse from the Bishop family, some changes to our beer and wine pouring ordinance, and the adoption of an ethics ordinance championed by councilman Toby Smith. John Devine and Nina Butler from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission will also be on hand to talk with us about some greenspace planning they are assisting us with.

This will also be the final opportunity for citizens to weigh in on the FY11 budget -- we have had very little input so far and would always welcome more. Ideas we are considering in addition to our standard items include new breathing apparatus for the fire department, additional library funding (full disclosure: my wife is a library board member), employee raises, a speed hump on 2nd street, and continued funding for our urban forest board and tee planting.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Election season is heating up. There is a lot going on in Oconee in particular. Look for more posting soon, but also plan to attend Wednesday night's forum at the Oconee County Veteran's Park at 8 p.m. hosted by Russ Page and Lee Becker.