McDuffie County is positioned to be the main beneficiary of a regional tourism and development partnership.
Officials from a five-county area surrounding Clarks Hill Lake gathered in the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport conference room Tuesday morning to discuss the potential for lake tourism and the impact that the airport could have on attracting new opportunities to the region.
The group of city, county, state and federal officials discussed the possibility of applying for funding to extend the runway at the airport by some 300 feet to the length of 5,500 feet, a length at which 95 percent of corporate jets can land.
Beacuse the airport - one of 27 in the state designated as regional - is a short drive from Augusta, various points on the lake and many key areas in McDuffie, Lincoln, Warren, Columbia and Wilkes counties, officials hope to maximize its potential.
"I'm just glad we have the opportunity to have such an airport just 18 miles away from Lincolnton," said Lincoln County Commission Chairman Walker Norman.
Officials discussed the best way to approach applying for available money from the Georgia Department of Transportation, ONE Georgia grants and several other possible funding sources.
"With us coming together like this we are a force to be reckoned with," said Alana Burke, executive director of the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce.
Everyone agreed that working together would attract more attention at both the state and federal levels. Several counties applying for grant money jointly could not only bring in more but also benefit more people at the same time, said Lynn Ashcraft of ONE Georgia.
"You see what they've done with just the city and county," said Warren County Commission Chairman John Graham of the Thomson-McDuffie partnership. "If we pull four or five counties together we can do a lot to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens."
The one thing officials did decide on was that they want to continue meeting. Forward McDuffie Director Don Powers and Columbia County Development Authority Executive Director Zack Daffin will gather a committee of representatives from all five counties to discuss the best way to organize the partnership and conduct meetings.
Once the group settles on an organization plan and a meeting schedule, it will then tackle how to best organize itself - as a loose partnership or an official regional development authority.
The partnership was initiated by State Sen. Jim Whitehead's weekly meetings with city and county officials in the area he represents. From that small beginning, Senator Whitehead was shocked at the turnout for the Tuesday's meeting which included nearly 40 people.
"I can't believe that we are here today from that one little meeting we had two or three weeks ago," he said.