Some 50 young professionals from across the state were in Dalton Wednesday and Thursday, touring the city and speaking with local business and government leaders.
They weren’t here on vacation. They were here as part of the Georgia Municipal Association’s Young Gamechanger program, which brings promising leaders to a city to learn about the challenges it faces. They will then spend five months developing specific, actionable recommendations for the community. These questions revolve around redevelopment, education, community engagement and more.
“They bring fresh eyes and new ideas,” said Larry Hanson, CEO and executive director of the Georgia Municipal Association. “This new perspective can really help local leaders find new ways to solve some of the problems they face. They can see things that people who are in the community every day don’t notice. Sometimes we don’t notice not all have something right under our noses.”
The questions Dalton officials asked them to answer are:
• “How to leverage the uniqueness of our multicultural community, convenient location off I-75, outdoor recreation facilities, and the natural beauty of the Northwest Georgia Mountains to market Dalton as a destination for visitors, new residents and businesses?”
• “The Town of Dalton is devoting considerable resources to creating a more vibrant community that attracts people (and/or especially families) to live, work and play here. How can Dalton-Whitfield County improve its ability to support the redevelopment of neighborhoods in degraded or distressed areas?
• “In 2019, 70% of K-12 students in Dalton-Whitfield County were considered economically disadvantaged. How can the community help students improve their academic performance and give them the tools they need to need to be successful?
• “A significant percentage of our residents do not feel empowered or feel their voice is heard. Dalton is a very diverse community, where 50.8% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. Unfortunately, the majority of our residents Hispanics do not feel welcomed or included in the community. This reluctance is evident across cultures, professions, and socioeconomic levels. How can we engage all sectors of the community to bring everyone to the table? ?”
“We want to attract educated young people to live in our community, and I’m sure you’ll have some great ideas for us,” Dalton Mayor David Pennington told the group.
Hanson said the Young Gamechangers program has been around for 12 years.
“It went under GMA two years ago,” he said. “It had been under Central Atlanta Progress before that. They thought it had become a statewide program, so it wasn’t appropriate for them anymore. They asked us to take it over, and we were more than happy to do it.”
Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce president Jason Mock said he thinks having the Young Gamechangers focus on Dalton would be “extremely helpful”.
“These young men and women are not just the future, they are the present,” he said. “In their own communities, they are emerging leaders. For them, engaging with our community and seeing the challenges we face and trying to develop solutions can only be a benefit for Dalton.”
Gamechangers are accomplished professionals ages 41 and under from across the state who want to make an impact through civic engagement, economic development, and community partnerships. A third of the class are from the Dalton-Whitfield County area, another third from the Atlanta metro area, and the remaining third from greater Georgia.
They are expected to submit a report to the city, with their responses to questions posed by local officials, this fall.