A Fresh Look at a Sustainable Cherokee

When most people think of sustainability, the environment comes to mind, with a focus on programs like recycling and clean energy. Defining sustainability means looking beyond the environment to the community the environment supports. In other words, focusing on sustainable communities. Specifically, a sustainable community is one whose programs and infrastructure enable its members to flourish while positively impacting the environment. Based on this definition, Cherokee County is a sustainable community.
In 2010, Cherokee County was one of the first communities to be certified as a Green Community by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). The county reaffirmed its commitment to being green in 2014 when it was recertified at the Bronze level. The Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED) highlighted sustainability in their Opportunity Cherokee Strategic Blueprint in 2015 and was subsequently awarded one of the first Sustainable Connections interns sponsored by ARC. The internship program seeks to connect the wealth of talented university students in the region with local governments and nonprofits with active needs associated with sustainability. COED hired Joy Harris, current Georgia Tech MBA student and Princeton graduate, with the intention to redefine sustainability, identify a wealth of existing sustainability programs throughout the community, and help develop an action plan to advance sustainable business development through the Fresh Start Cherokee program.
“The county was recognized by ARC for its diverse sustainability initiatives,” stated Misti Martin, President of COED, “It was important to take the next step and develop a plan that outlined the strategic priorities related to sustainability.” COED looked at four community dimensions including social programs, economic opportunities, environmental programs, and infrastructure. As an example, one Cherokee company offers a social program that provides virtual professional development and training at little or no cost to Cherokee residents. COED facilitates economic opportunities through its online career center that showcases job openings in the area. There are local recycling efforts and other programs to nurture the environment. Also, COED works alongside various government and community partners to continue to build upon the sustainable infrastructure designed to support industries, parks and recreation, healthcare needs, entrepreneurial endeavors, and housing.
Joy stated, “This internship has been an invaluable part of my education as a Georgia Tech MBA student. The experiential assignments are a perfect complement to my classroom training and I am thankful to the COED staff for giving me this amazing opportunity to grow in the field of sustainability.”
Further, there is an additional effort to attract entrepreneurs as part of Fresh Start Cherokee. Over time, entrepreneurs throughout Cherokee County will help maintain sustainable business development goals. As a start, COED surveyed existing startups and industries throughout the county to identify business needs. The next step will be to utilize the survey results to design and implement workshops, networking sessions, webinars, and other opportunities to cultivate and grow sustainability.
Sustainability is much larger than any single green initiative. With the right strategy and sustainable infrastructure Cherokee County will continue to grow and flourish.