When Kali Boatright said that because Douglas County is so close to Atlanta, "we kind of get cast into the shadow of what Atlanta is," she nailed it. Douglas County does have something of a problem standing out in the sea of sprawl that is Atlanta.
But Boatright and others are leading the charge to give the county a more defining identity.
Boatright, who is president and CEO of the Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, made the comments about being in Atlanta's shadow to The Tennessean, the Nashville newspaper, during last week's "strategic leadership visit" by 40 local leaders to Franklin, Tennessee. She was responding to a question about what she wanted to bring back to Douglasville and she started her answer by saying that while there wasn't one thing, that the group wanted to "help define Douglasville."
Boatright helped organize the two-day trip to Franklin to get inspiration and ideas to improve the quality of life here and to give Douglasville and Douglas County an identity that's all ours.
Boatright and the other 40 people on the trip are to be commended for taking the initiative to look for inspiration in a thriving city like Franklin.
We concede that Douglas County has had some growing pains that are largely the result of being geographically so close to Atlanta. But leaving the county is not the answer.
As one person who took the trip to Franklin posted on Facebook recently, the answer, rather than packing up and moving, is to stay in Douglas County and look for ways to make things better. The 40 people on the trip to Franklin are clearly in that camp.
Douglasville already has a beautiful and historic downtown, just like Franklin. And we have a great starting point with the restaurants and other businesses that are established along Broad Street and around O'Neal Plaza. The group that went to Franklin got a hands-on look at what a downtown revitalization looks like.
Franklin also has an old jail in its downtown area that the city has turned into a center for arts and historic preservation. Can Douglas County do something similar with its old jail or should it be used for something different? That's one of the questions the leaders on the trip should look at.
Franklin's downtown area also has a hotel, which is something Douglasville has been trying to get for years. A hotel in downtown Douglasville could drive foot traffic and spur more quality growth in our historic district.
Like Douglasville, Franklin is about 20 miles from a major city with an interstate running through it. Franklin has managed to create both a thriving downtown and a bustling commercial district around the interstate.
Boatright told the Sentinel before the trip: "The long-term goal is a collaborative effort where the city and county have one message. It is for the city, county, school board, economic development -- everyone -- going in one direction. (Franklin) got together with the same idea and decided they all needed to focus on one thing. Education was the one thing they focused on."
The group from Douglas County included not only business leaders, but also top government officials from the state, county, city, school system and development authority.
The mayor, city manager and planning director from the city of Douglasville, the Douglas County commission chairman, county administrator and planning and zoning director, the executive director and chairman of the board of directors for the county development authority and top school system officials were all among those on the trip, along with a state senator and state representative.
These are people who can make things happen -- if they work together toward a common cause. It's important to remember that Franklin wasn't always known as "America's Favorite Main Street." That happened over time, with a lot of collaboration between governments and businesses.
The visit to Franklin was a great starting point for Douglasville and Douglas County. We hope that the leaders who went on this trip will take the things they learned about Franklin's success and commit to emulating some of the best ideas, whatever they may be. Seeing those ideas come to fruition would be the lasting legacy of the trip.
THE DOUGLAS COUNTY SENTINEL