2021 Four for the Future

Now in its ninth year, the Four for the Future Awards, co-sponsored by Georgia Trend magazine and UGA, recognize communities and regions that have worked across public- private sector and nonprofit boundaries to address challenges in ways that will lead to improved quality of life. These partnerships demonstrate effective collaboration, leadership and innovation, and offer the promise of long-term community benefits. The 2021 recipients are:

Washington County Branding Initiative

Washington County and its eight communities have a lot to offer but did not have a unified brand identity, tools or message needed to maximize promotion, marketing and economic development efforts. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government was commissioned by Archway Partnership on behalf of Washington County to facilitate a countywide branding process and create a brand identity. Vinson Institute graphic designers took the information provided by county residents and created a visual identity that captured the county’s diverse and unique sense of place. Each community designed its own logo to fit within the county brand. The county now has tools to use for recruiting industry and the Chamber of Commerce has a brand message to attract tourism, enhance marketing and aid local merchants.

Barrow County Grow It Know It

A needs assessment conducted by UGA showed that teachers in Barrow County were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about farm to school programming. However, there are significant barriers to starting the programs, including a need for teacher training, support for starting and managing school gardens, securing garden materials and supplies, coordinating cooking activities, and integrating farm to school programming into the curriculum. The Office of Service-Learning partnered with Barrow County Extension, Georgia Farm Bureau, and Barrow County School District to launch Grow It Know It (GIKI), an experiential training program for educators to learn a food- and garden-based curriculum. Since 2018, 53 Barrow County educators have participated in Grow It Know It training, serving 1,239 students in 2019-2020. UGA received a $150,703 USDA grant to support the Barrow County farm to school effort through GIKI.

NewTown Macon Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy

The nonprofit NewTown Macon, which focuses on economic and cultural development in downtown Macon, saw that many people trying to start new businesses needed coaching to help them find funding. Current and aspiring business owners also needed leadership and entrepreneurial skills. So NewTown Macon reached out to the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development for help. Fanning faculty designed curriculum for the NewTown Macon Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy and facilitated the first class in fall 2018. Over four sessions, participants focused on leadership skills critical to carrying out a business vision, and learned more about business plan development. Participant Scott Mitchell, owner of Travis Jean Emporium, reported that his revenue increased in the months following the academy. Also, Mitchell became more involved in the business community, which he said also opened doors for his business.

Camden County Coastal Green Infrastructure

The Camden County Extension office regularly experienced flooding when it rained. In addressing that problem, Camden County and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant created a demonstration site to support educational outreach and engagement. Using grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund the project and assistance from state and local partners, Camden County Extension now has a 262-square-foot bioretention cell that manages more than 14,000 gallons of water annually. The bioretention cell not only addressed the county extensions office’s flooding problem, but provided a new teaching tool to help local residents learn about stormwater management. In addition, a UGA Public Service and Outreach Student Scholar, who interned with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, helped design the cell and coordinate construction training for Camden County’s Public Works Department—a valuable experiential learning opportunity.

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UGA Public Service and Outreach awards recognize achievement, creativity and contributions that improve quality of life

Eight University of Georgia faculty and staff members will be recognized this week for their commitment to public service and outreach.

Award winners were selected from UGA academic and research faculty, Cooperative Extension and Public Service and Outreach units. They will be recognized in a university-wide virtual Honors Week presentation on Wednesday, and in a smaller virtual event, hosted by UGA Public Service and Outreach, on Thursday.

UGA’s highest award for Public Service and Outreach is the Walter Barnard Hill Fellow Award for Distinguished Achievement in Public Service and Outreach, named for Chancellor Walter B. Hill, who led the University of Georgia from 1899 to 1905. Hill was a pioneer who helped define the university’s modern public service and outreach mission. The Hill Fellow recognizes faculty for long-term achievements and special projects that have extraordinary impact, and collaborative efforts that improve quality of life in Georgia. Only past UGA Hill Award winners are eligible to become a Hill Fellow. Each Hill Fellow receives a medallion, a permanent salary increase and $2,000 in discretionary funds per fiscal year for three consecutive years to advance his or her public service work.

The 2021 Hill Fellow is Robert Kemerait Jr., a professor and extension specialist in plant pathology at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. During his 21 years at UGA, Kemerait has made significant inroads in securing the food supply, both here and abroad, by helping growers protect their crops against diseases, nematodes and weather. He specializes in disease and nematode management of peanut, corn, cotton and soybeans, and led the effort to create Peanut Rx, an internationally recognized disease forecasting tool for peanut farmers. Kemerait has been a part of USAID-funded development projects with farmers in Guyana, Haiti and the Philippines.

The UGA Walter Barnard Hill Award also is named for Chancellor Walter B. Hill. The Hill Awards recognize distinguished achievements by public service faculty, who have contributed to a better quality of life for the people of Georgia. Each award recipient receives a medallion, a permanent salary increase and a framed certificate in honor of his or her achievement.

This year there are five award recipients:

Carolina Darbisi is a senior faculty member at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. Darbisi has helped build strong pipelines of leadership among women, multicultural populations and in public health circles.

Leigh Askew Elkins is a senior faculty member at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Elkins has been instrumental in helping communities integrate natural resources into economic development projects and protecting the state’s environment.

Keri Grandy Hobbs is a UGA Extension 4-H specialist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Hobbs’ work resulted in a more efficient program to prepare volunteers for 4-H, which has been adopted across Georgia and in other states.

Mark Lupo is a business education and resilience specialist for the UGA Small Business Development Center. Lupo has built a national reputation as an expert in business continuity and emergency preparedness.

David Tanner is associate director of state services and support for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Tanner helped lead an overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile justice system, through which more than 7,000 youth were redirected from detention to community-based mental health programs.

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The Engaged Scholar Award recognizes a tenured associate or full professor who has made significant career-spanning contributions to the University of Georgia’s public service mission through scholarship, service-learning opportunities for students and campus leadership. The awardee receives a $5,000 faculty development grant to sustain current engaged scholar endeavors, or to develop new ones.

The 2021 Engaged Scholar Award will be presented to Edward Delgado-Romero, professor of counseling and human development services, and associate dean, in the Mary Frances Early College of Education. The first and only Latinx faculty member tenured and promoted within his department, Delgado-Romero has increased UGA’s engagement with the Latinx community and helped diversify the student body. He has formed town-gown partnerships that address the critical mental health needs of the Latinx population and helped train the next generation of bilingual and bicultural psychologists and social workers. He worked with the local community to establish a psychology clinic where UGA graduate students provide free services to Spanish-speaking clients.

The Public Service and Outreach Staff Award for Excellence acknowledges individuals for their exceptional job performance, workplace creativity and innovation, and commitment to service. The honoree receives a certificate, a cash award and an engraved crystal memento.

The 2021 Staff Award goes to Lisa Gentit, a marine resource specialist for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Since she joined the unit as a research technician in 2003, Gentit has steadily increased her responsibilities, most recently overseeing the extensive field and lab work on a critical research collaboration with a North Carolina biotechnology company.

Learn more about the 2021 award winners by reading the Annual Meeting Awards Program.

UGA community leadership development initiative enters second year, taking application for new participants

In her role as Elbert County Chamber of Commerce president, Leslie Friedman saw a gap in the community’s workforce that needed addressing.

“I felt like our community needed more resources and training for ‘middle management’ in our community, specifically in leadership development,” Friedman said. “I felt that developing leaders in that sector could really strengthen our entire workforce and the whole community, but businesses do not always have the resources to provide it.”

As a result, Friedman applied for the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative (ICLI), which was introduced by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, last year.

Now the institute is taking applications for its second round of participants.

Through the ICLI, the Fanning Institute invests resources and technical expertise into communities and organizations to enhance and innovate leadership development programming.

Possible ICLI projects include community-focused, skills-based programming that prioritizes community and civic engagement; leadership development for underserved populations within a community; programming that enhances workforce vitality; programs that enhance student opportunities and leadership skills; entrepreneurial leadership development; multi-county, regional leadership development programming; or programming focused on enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) or conflict transformation within communities.

As one of the inaugural eight ICLI recipients, the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce worked with the Fanning Institute to create Lead Elbert, a new broad-based community leadership program for Elbert County.

“The community had a leadership program many years ago, but it no longer existed and we worked with Fanning to create a whole new program,” Friedman said.

Brittany Adams-Pope leads an ICLI session.

Brittany Adams-Pope was one of several Fanning Institute faculty members to help develop the Lead Elbert program. (PHOTO: Charlie Bauder)

Fanning Institute faculty and staff helped the chamber design and develop the new program, which started in September 2020.

“We worked with the chamber to tailor our community leadership curriculum to fit the program they had in mind,” said Brittany Adams-Pope, Fanning Institute public service faculty. “Then, we trained local leaders to actually teach the curriculum. Finally, we went and led the opening retreat for this year’s class, to get the first year off to a great start.”

Ten people are participating in this year’s inaugural Lead Elbert class, which will run through May.

“All of the sessions have gone so well,” Friedman said. “Everyone responded so well to the opening retreat led by Fanning and even through the pandemic, participation has been very high and the program has continued to gain momentum.”

While the program has had to adjust due to COVID-19, incorporating virtual tours and presentations, participants have received leadership training in areas such as collaboration, communication and group decision making.

“Through attending the program, I have learned that my communication skills, along with networking with others and utilizing ideas and resources, are essential in formulating the leadership qualities it takes to pave the way to a brighter future and stronger community for the next generation,” said Tyron Yeargin, water treatment plant manager for the City of Elberton.

The inaugural class is also completing a community service project, the creation of a youth leadership program for Elbert County.

“This program has given me the opportunity to learn so much about our county through a different set of eyes,” said Tammy Dalton, executive director for Friends of Advantage, a nonprofit board that supports Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, which serves people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases. “I appreciate the education and tours of our local government, school system, healthcare and more that I have received during this experience.  Things have changed so much over the years and it is refreshing to see how Elbert County is progressing and growing. It also has afforded our group an opportunity to look at what we can offer to enhance the community as well through a youth leadership program.”

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Planning for a second Lead Elbert class is underway, with members of this year’s class becoming part of the program’s executive committee.

“Partnering with Fanning was essential to building a strong program that we can keep going for years to come,” Friedman said. “With Fanning’s help, we’re providing leaders with skills they can apply at work and at home, building stronger families and stronger communities. We could not have done this without the ICLI, and we appreciate being part of it.”

The ICLI is specifically designed to help communities and organizations like Elbert County, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“Starting and sustaining new leadership programming requires a substantial investment of time, funding and manpower, which is challenging for communities and organizations with limited resources,” Bishop said. “The ICLI allows us to provide those resources and help communities develop leaders ready and able to make an impact for years to come.”

The ICLI is supported by private funding donated by members of the Fanning Institute Advisory Board, most notably a lead gift from the James L. Allgood Family.

“We appreciate the Allgood family and others on our advisory board for their commitment to building the leaders that will carry Georgia’s communities into the future,” Bishop said.

The application deadline for this year’s ICLI is April 30. To learn more about the ICLI and submit a proposal, click here or contact Brittany Adams-Pope.


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


Brittany Adams-Pope Fanning Institute Public Service Assistant • 706-542-7044

UGA Institute of Government helping communities be more than “Anywhere USA”

After a year-long process led by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, residents of Washington County—a UGA Archway Partnership community— and its eight municipalities selected a brand, complete with tagline and logo, to draw attention to the community’s assets.


A revolutionary map created by UGA is leading to expanded statewide internet access

Wide swaths of South Georgia lack access to high-speed internet service.

But where are the most households lacking broadband access in the state? Fulton County.

Thanks to a groundbreaking map — the first of its kind in the United States — community leaders and telecommunications companies in Georgia can now easily identify broadband dead zones down to a single address and expand access to those areas.

“Approximately 10 percent of the population of Georgia is not served,” said Eric McRae, associate director of information technology outreach services at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, who oversaw the map’s creation. “That’s not too bad, or doesn’t seem like it is. But when you actually start thinking about it, that’s a million people that don’t have service.”


When the state launched the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) in 2018, making access to high-speed internet a priority for all Georgians, it looked to UGA’s Institute of Government for help. Before the state could go about addressing the issue, it needed to know how big the problem was.

To figure out who had access to broadband internet and who didn’t, the institute’s information technology staff used a geographic information system (GIS) data set that contained every address in the state — more than five million in total — and matched it to locations serviced by the state’s internet service providers.

Pandemic highlights a need

McRae and state officials have been besieged with calls from other states and government entities since the map was unveiled.

“Virginia wrote us and said we had changed broadband forever,” said McRae, adding that Montana also had requested information about the map. At their invitation, McRae served on a panel at the annual meeting of the Rural Broadband Association in February.

GBDI Director Deana Perry said the broadband map, providing a location-level perspective of unserved areas in the state, was key to directing the investment in broadband infrastructure to “better serve individuals, families, businesses and other institutions that are essential to the quality of life for Georgia’s residents.”

“This is the most detailed resource to date that illustrates the digital divide in Georgia,” Perry said.

Reliable, high-speed internet became a critical need this year as millions of Americans began working and schooling from home as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Like the rest of the country, hundreds of thousands of Georgians went home to residences without the reliable access to broadband internet. But unlike other states, Georgia is now able to accurately find these gaps in coverage and help citizens get connected.

A graphic showing the perceived broadband availability using FCC data on the left, and the new GBDI map on the right.

Using data collected by the FCC, the map on the left shows the areas of Georgia previously believed to have broadband internet access in orange. The map on the right shows the actual areas of the state with broadband access using location-specific data collected by the Vinson Institute.

The map, unveiled by Gov. Brian Kemp on July 1, was created as part of the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative, a multiyear collaboration between the governor’s office, the Technology Authority and internet service providers.

The location-specific data collected by the Institute of Government shows sizable chunks of the state without reliable access to broadband— much larger areas than previously thought. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) map, which states use to determine who has and doesn’t have high speed internet, is ineffective because it identifies an entire census block as served if just a single address in the block has access.

For example, the FCC map shows Fulton County is covered. But UGA’s enhanced map shows more than 16,000 households are without broadband in Fulton County.

The new map counts a census block as having access if at least 80 percent of its addresses are served speeds of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and three Mbps upload — speeds considered necessary for most online activity, such as video streaming, web browsing, and file sharing.

With the granular information from the GIS data in hand, the GBDI team was able to partner with communities and internet service providers to address the gaps in coverage. The General Assembly has budgeted $20 million in this fiscal year, and $10 million next year, to help communities pay for the service. Workshops to help local government learn how to apply for state grants begin this month.

“When the pandemic started, that’s when the true value of this data became apparent because all of a sudden every kid was sent home from school and told they were going to do online learning from here on out,” McRae said. “All of a sudden, people started asking questions. ‘How many of these kids don’t have access to broadband?’ They wanted to know if we could answer that question.”

Thanks to the map, they could — more than 110,000 Georgia students. The majority of these students reside in the rural areas of the state; in places like Fannin County.

Connecting rural Georgia

Located at the Georgia border with North Carolina and Tennessee, mountainous Fannin County is home to roughly 24,000 people, many of whom don’t have any access to reliable internet.

There are few internet service providers in the area and connection speeds are often slow. The topography of the region leads to issues with reliable cellular signals, as well. As a result, thousands of residents struggle to find dependable broadband access at home.

“I think this has brought to life the inequities people have, for sure,” said Heather Finley, the director of instructional technology for the Fannin County School District. “Here, it’s not even a socioeconomic inequity. It’s a where you live inequity… [The map] showed that 40% of our county couldn’t even get internet. Not that it’s slow or that they can’t pay for it, they can’t get it. That’s a big number for us.”

A section of the Georgia Broadband Map showing Fanning County

The new map has helped the school district strategically address the issue for its students. Schools have made their Wi-Fi internet signal accessible from their parking lots, buses are equipped with internet for students to use while commuting to school or events, and larger Wi-Fi Rangers — provided by AT&T in partnership with the state — are being placed at apartment complexes and housing developments where up to 30 students can connect at a time.

The most successful approach, however, has been the use of individual Wi-Fi hotspots that students can take to their homes. Fannin County schools used the map to validate its need for better access and nearly doubled their inventory of mobile hotspots, which connect to the students’ school-supplied Chromebooks.

The district’s 140 total hotspots have been vital for its students learning at home, an option given to parents at the start of the school year.

“When all the talk started about making the kids go back to school, I didn’t know what this was going to look like or what we were going to do…We would not be able to [school at home] without [the mobile hotspot],” said a Fannin County mother of three, who asked that her name not be used in this story. “If the school wasn’t offering them, then we’d have to go purchase our own and see what the prices were.”

The mother, whose youngest child has a pre-existing medical condition, elected to have her children learn at home based on the advice of her doctors. Not only did the school district provide her with a hotspot using a Verizon cell signal for her home, but also a second unit on AT&T’s service for her children to use when they stay at their grandmother’s house.

“We could have gone the easy route and told people to drive to our bus, but we knew that wasn’t effective and we were going to have to spend the money,” Finley said. “Luckily, I work for a district that values technology and values our students and puts them first. So, it was a never a question for me of how many can I have, it was get what you need.”

Urban areas also affected

While the majority of Georgians without access to broadband live in the state’s rural areas, there are inequities in more urban communities as well, including Athens, Georgia.

A section of the Georgia Broadband Map showing Clarke CountyThe Institute of Government map showed underserved sections of Clarke County that were not identified through FCC data. But even in areas where internet is available, the cost of broadband service can often be prohibitive to families, according to McRae.

“Just because someone is shown as served, it doesn’t mean they have a subscription,” he said. “It just means they have the ability to have access to broadband. Just because someone has access to broadband doesn’t mean they have it.”

When the pandemic hit, the Clarke County School District (CCSD) determined that more than 1,200 students needed help accessing the internet from home.

“I don’t think any of us were surprised [by the number of students without broadband internet],” said Taylor Duke, CCSD director of infrastructure support services. “We’re fortunate that we have the infrastructure in place so that we have options to choose from [to help].”

CCSD has utilized eight Wi-Fi Rangers provided by the state, expanded Wi-Fi coverage to school parking lots, and even developed a partnership with the Athens-Clarke County government to provide students with Wi-Fi access at government buildings and parks.

But like Fannin County, the district found that personal, mobile hotspots were the best solution.

“We went that route so they can move the hotspots around with them,” Duke said. “There’s no installation, there’s no waiting, it’s just a really good mobile solution for the kids to use.”

With the entire school district — more than 12,000 total students — learning remotely since March, CCSD’s existing 500 Wi-Fi hotspots weren’t enough to cover all of the students who needed help. Duke recently purchased an additional 1,200 hotspots and anticipates adding even more.

The school district also received additional assistance from the UGA football team. The Bulldogs’ newly created ‘Dawgs for Pups’ fundraiser program donated $100,000 to help kindergarten through eighth grade students gain access to high-speed internet.

The work continues

The Institute of Government and GBDI team are working across the state in other communities, school districts, and with individual Georgians to find ways to address their broadband needs.

They’re developing ‘greenfield costs’ to help counties estimate the expense of expanding broadband coverage and where they’d receive the best return on their investment. They’ve partnered with private businesses like AT&T, which has donated thousands of Wi-Fi Rangers while also developing discounted cellular plans for governments and school districts. They’re even helping individual residents find national programs to help offset costs, such as the FCC’s Lifeline program, which provides discount broadband service for low-income customers.

Eric McRae stands in front of a large map of the state of Georgia

Associate director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s Office of Information Technology Outreach Services Eric McRae worked on a broadband map that shows the actual coverage for the state of Georgia. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

“There’s funding through the FCC, there’s funding through USDA, there’s funding through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act,” approved by Congress in late March, said McRae. “There’s lots of different buckets of funding that we can use for helping broadband in the state of Georgia. On top of that, individual communities [are funding it].”

The map itself is not a finished project, either. The Institute of Government recently began updating its underlying data with new information provided by 44 internet service providers from across the state. The institute will also use findings from the 2020 census to provide a more accurate estimate for the number of people per household.

The mapping technology developed at UGA could become a national model.

“We are the first state in the nation to go to this level of mapping. No one else has done this,” McRae said. “Our main goal is to get people hooked up with broadband and get access to broadband. Long term I’m sure we’ll be worked out of a job as far as [map making] goes, but there’s plenty of other work to be done.”


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


Eric McRae Assoc. Dir. of Information Technology Outreach Services • 706-542-3442


The broadband maps can be found at:

Grover Andrews, who ushered the UGA Center for Continuing Education into the 21st century, dies at 91

Former UGA Public Service and Outreach Vice President Grover J. Andrews died March 26, 2021. He was 91.

Andrews was associate vice president for Public Service and Outreach and interim director of the Georgia Center from 1998 until he retired in 2001. From 1989 until 1998 he was director of instructional services for the Georgia Center. He also served as adjunct professor of adult education in the UGA College of Education from 1989 through 1996.

As interim director, Andrews oversaw the Georgia Center’s continuing reorganization, which began in FY 97.

In FY 2000, the center completed a strategic plan that called for “sweeping initiatives that will greatly enhance UGA’s ability to serve the people of Georgia and beyond.” Among those initiatives was to transform the Georgia Center into a Center for the 21st Century and to expand distance education activities to interface with the Global Learning Online for Business and Education (G.L.O.B.E.) Initiative of the University System of Georgia. The Web version of Principles of Marketing Research, implemented in July 2000, was UGA’s first Web course to offer continuing education credits.

Over the next year, before Andrews retired, the center added a Conference Services Area and hired an assistant director to oversee it; expanded distance education, particularly Web-based programming; and expanded efforts in campus and state outreach.

Andrews’ career in higher education began after his service in the U.S. Navy and spanned more than 40 years with six institutions, where he was dedicated to teaching, research and practice in the field of adult education and accreditation.

He also served as an associate executive director for the Commission on Colleges, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. There he directed the research project that produced the first comprehensive accreditation standard for continuing education programs within colleges and universities. He also conducted research and developed guidelines for the use of the Continuing Education Unit and was instrumental in establishing the International Association for Continuing Education and Training, for which he then served as president.

Andrews was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame (IACEHF) in 1996. The IACEHF, based at the University of Oklahoma College of Continuing Education, recognizes men and women who have made distinguished contributions to the field of adult and continuing education.

His many honors include being selected for the Julius Nolte Award given by the National University Continuing Education Association (1995) and the Southern Association of Colleges Meritorious Service Award (2003).

According to his obituary, Andrews’ greatest legacy may be his dedication of hours and years to mentoring colleagues young and old. “They surely benefited from his graciousness, support, and wisdom beyond what any award could possibly measure. As one colleague stated, he will also be remembered as a true southern gentleman.”

Born in Batesville, Arkansas, Andrews was preceded in death by his parents Grover Jones and Ruth Burlie Andrews, and his three siblings.

Memorial gifts may be directed to the UGA Foundation, Development and Alumni Relations, Athens, Georgia 30602 with memo designating gifts to the benefit of the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.

Market knowledge and operational flexibility lead freight carrier through pandemic

Justin Hughes left trucking and moved into real estate in 2007, just before the Great Recession.

After he decided to return to trucking two years later, he reached out to the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center at Clayton State University.

His new company, the freight carrier DIESELGRID in Forest Park, had just two trucks and two employees.

“I needed help evaluating the company,” Hughes said. “Once I walked through my original concerns with the SBDC, I learned they have so much more to offer and started taking advantage of that.”

Since then, Hughes has worked with Alisa Kirk and other UGA SBDC consultants on strategic planning, human resources and leadership. The SBDC consultants helped him finance and refinance expansions and referred him to GrowSmart®, a core SBDC program that helps small business owners expand, and other courses. He now serves on the SBDC Advisory Council.

Since 2013, he has expanded to 26 employees and his revenues have increased more than 10 times. He saw a 68 percent growth in revenue just in 2019.

In February 2020, Hughes noticed a slowdown in the supply chain, which reduced demand for his service.

“By March 15, it was clear the U.S. was going to shut down,” he said. “So, our team met and systematically wrote down our liabilities and supplies. We went through all of our processes to decide what was critical and what was not.”

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Hughes then applied for a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance, with assistance from Kirk.

“Justin is a visionary, always looking ahead and never afraid to question things,” Kirk said. “The pandemic was worrying a lot of small business owners, but he was already thinking about what he needed to do.”

Hughes obtained an SBA EIDL grant with a Paycheck Protection Program loan and focused DIESELGRID on the supply chain, where demand was greatest.

Employees were able to work remotely, as Hughes had purchased a server and set up PCs before the virus hit Georgia.

“We were forced to flip the switch in March,” he said. “We also moved to serve the greater supply chain, from raw materials to manufacturing. We joined the Georgia Manufacturer Alliance and began building relationships with their local network to find those key people.”

This pivot helped DEISELGRID connect with a major customer that ships to a local grocery chain.

Kirk also introduced Hughes to the Georgia Mentor Protégé Connection, which matches small Georgia businesses with a Georgia corporation for a one-year mentoring and business development partnership.

“It’s an amazing program,” Hughes said. “I encourage others to join me in working with the SBDC to learn how to run their businesses effectively. It is comforting to know you can trust someone who has no agenda other than to honestly help you. ”

Learn more about the UGA SBDC at

Lyndhurst Foundation awards sixth round of funding to Institute of Government

The Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, a program of UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, was recently awarded $120,000 by the Lyndhurst Foundation. This is the sixth time the foundation has funded the program since 2015, bringing its total support to $590,000.

Since its first gift, the Lyndhurst Foundation, based in Chattanooga, has enabled the Institute of Government to assist local governments with revitalization efforts in northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee. Over the course of its partnership, the foundation has empowered communities and improved the region by supporting planning and design projects in McCaysville, Trenton, Chickamauga, Chatsworth, Rossville, Ringgold, Lookout Mountain, and Murray County, Georgia, as well as Copperhill, Ducktown, and Athens, Tennessee. The latest round of funding will support downtown master planning efforts for the cities of LaFayette and Fort Oglethorpe.

Funds from Lyndhurst converted a historic rail depot in Chickamauga into a welcome center, and in Rossville were used to update the grounds around the duck pond at the historic John Ross home and to improve an old textile mill for use in business and social ventures — initiatives that contribute to long-term livability and resilience of Lyndhurst’s greater Chattanooga service region, which includes communities in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

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More recent funding supported a unique economic development partnership with communities on the Georgia and Tennessee border. The Copper Basin Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning (RSVP) collaboration united key leaders from McCaysville, its twin city of Copperhill, Tennessee, and nearby Ducktown, Tennessee, in a community-driven alliance to help the region’s economy flourish. It was the first two-state RSVP, a component of the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, which is a revitalization initiative of the Institute of Government conducted with cooperation from the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Cities Foundation, and other partners.

The Copper Basin RSVP strategy complements public and private quality-of-life amenities already in place or under development. The RSVP also served to enhance existing partnerships among the cities, all of which are members of the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and his staff supported the work on the Copper Basin RSVP with the Institute of Government since the initial discussions about the project. Ralston, a longtime proponent of economic development initiatives like the RSVP, represents a district that includes McCaysville and Fannin County.

In 2020, UGA Public Service and Outreach (PSO) recognized Lyndhurst with its annual Door Impact Award in recognition of its support of helping Georgia communities.

UGA, fishing industry expand market, protect whales

The University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is working with commercial fishermen to test advanced gear that could expand their catch and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, like the one found dead off the coast of South Carolina this week.

Ropeless fishing gear would allow boats easier access to black sea bass, which are caught using pots that are lowered to the ocean floor with vertical fishing lines connected to floats that sit on top of the water. Fishermen set those pots for a period of time, and black sea bass swim into them and can’t get out. The pots and lines are retrieved at the end of each trip.

Currently, during colder months off the southeast Atlantic coast, fishing boats have to go about 30 miles offshore to set their pots so that they won’t ensnare the right whales that migrate south during the winter to calve. That makes the trip more expensive and more dangerous for the fishers.

But setting pots closer to shore is a critical hazard to the right whales. The whale that was found dead off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Sunday had been spotted near Nantucket, Massachusetts, in October with fishing line extended from its mouth. Nicknamed Cottontail, the whale was spotted in February near Florida where disentanglement experts tried unsuccessfully to free him from the ropes.

Since 2017, 34 right whales have died from entanglement in fishing gear or being struck by a boat.

“The use of ropeless gear could potentially remove nearly all entanglement risks to the whales and other marine animals,” said Bryan Fluech, associate director of extension at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

A woman leans over a boat to hook a floating fishing pod buoy From New England to Florida, researchers and fishermen are exploring ways to adapt their gear to spare the right whales. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries estimates that 85 percent of right whales have become entangled in fishing gear at least once. NOAA has identified two areas critical for right whales: off the coast of New England, where the whales forage for food in warmer months; and off the southeast coast from North Carolina to Florida, where the whales reproduce between November and April.

Fluech is collaborating with Kim Sawicki, project lead and doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Sawicki serves as the president of Sustainable Seas Technology Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the use of innovation and technology in the safe and sustainable harvest of seafood.

In summer 2020, the research team secured a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service to test eight different ropeless gear systems with black sea bass pots off the coast of Georgia. It was the first time the ropeless gear had been tested in the South Atlantic.

“It’s nice to know that for this area, we’re really on the front end of this,” Fluech said.

Each gear type is rigged, deployed and retrieved in a different way. Some devices use lines stored on spools or in bags or traps that sit on the ocean floor. Others have inflatable lift bags or buoys that float the pots to the surface. The devices are triggered by acoustic technology or timers that activate their release.

Fishermen use fishery-specific GPS software to locate the pots from above water.

“Normally you would just have a line and buoy in the water 24-7, but what we have to do is purposely tell these devices when to release the line and buoy and then we simply drive up to it, and keep fishing as normal,” Sawicki said.

The control panel for the ropeless fishing gear

Retrieving the gear takes less than two minutes and the fishing vessels stay within 20-30 feet of the line and traps during the retrieval process, leaving little opportunity for the whales to become entangled, a problem that has nearly eliminated the right whale. Only about 360 remain in existence in the wild, according to the NOAA.

Fluech and Sawicki tested the devices alongside local fishermen, who provided boats and crew for the field experiments. This relationship has been the key to determining the practicality of the gear.

“Is it time effective? How long will it take for the average fisher to learn to use these gears?” Sawicki asked. “We wanted to look at all of the issues surrounding the use of this gear through this very particular fishery.”

Throughout the testing period, the research team leaned on commercial fishermen for their institutional knowledge and feedback.

“The project, it holds merit in my eyes,” said Bill Nutt, a fisherman from Deland, Florida, who recently got back into commercial fishing after a 20-year hiatus. Nutt volunteered his time for the project, working as a mate on one of the fishing vessels the team used to conduct field studies.

“You definitely don’t want to endanger the whales, but you’ve got to make a living, so the devices have to be cost effective,” he says. “If there’s something you can do, you should do it.”

Next steps for the project team include reporting their findings to NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council early this year, and hopefully obtaining funds for additional trials and research.

“We hope this pilot study will serve as a catalyst for more formalized research into the application of this gear as an approved gear that would ultimately allow these fishermen to fish in areas that are currently restricted,” Fluech said. “At the end of the day if we can show that this gear is efficient and these guys can still catch fish and protect the whales, that might be incentive to grow the fishery and still meet conservation goals.”

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Emily Kenworthy Public Relations Coordinator • 912-598-2348 ext. 107


Bryan Fluech Associate Director of Extension • 912-264-7269

UGA honors late judge, announces new programs at annual leadership conference

The UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development presented its 2021 Innovations in Community Leadership Award posthumously to Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr., in honor of his commitment to developing leaders and strengthening his hometown of Newton County and communities across Georgia.

The award was presented to Johnson’s family and was announced at the UGA Fanning Institute’s 2021 virtual Community Leadership Conference on Feb. 18.

A record number of 450 individuals registered for this year’s conference, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson, who died in July 2020 at age of 61, led efforts to start a Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Newton County and helped to begin a mentoring program in the county’s school system. In addition, he took an active role in mentoring young people and supporting leadership efforts across the state through involvement in Leadership Georgia and as a member of the Fanning Institute Advisory Board.

“Horace truly embodied what it means to be a community leader and a public servant,” said Matt Bishop, director of the UGA Fanning Institute. “He committed his life to creating opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders and helping others reach their goals and aspirations. Horace left a legacy of servant leadership and giving back to his community and throughout this state.”

The presentation of the Innovations in Community Leadership Award highlighted the sixth annual Community Leadership Conference, which brings together community leaders from all walks of life each year to share ideas and insights for strengthening communities, organizations and individuals through leadership development.

A woman sits in front of a laptop for a video conference

Melissa Roberts, Executive Director of the non-profit aerial arts organization Canopy Studio in Athens, attends the virtual Community Leadership Conference presented by JW Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

During the conference, the institute unveiled two new certificate programs that will launch in 2021, an online leadership development certificate program for individuals, and an online certificate program on inclusive leadership.

“These two certificate programs will provide individuals with opportunities for professional development and leadership development that can benefit them individually, in their workplaces and in their greater communities,” Bishop said. “The virtual delivery method provides the programs with flexibility while still creating an interactive, engaging experience for participants.”

This year’s conference, “Leading in Unprecedented Times,” began with a plenary address that focused on how the pandemic has affected leadership programs and community leaders and how leaders can adapt to these times.

“Developing emotional intelligence skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management are essential to effective collaboration and conflict management,” said Nina Johnson, a Fanning Institute public service faculty member. “They either make or break a good leader.”

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Throughout the day, participants attended sessions on topics such as leading difficult conversations in your community; diversity, equity and inclusion; and leadership lessons learned during the pandemic.

The diversity, equity and inclusion session was very beneficial, said Melissa Roberts, executive director of Canopy Studio, an Athens-based nonprofit aerial arts organization.

“Sayge (Medlin, Fanning Institute public service faculty) was a great moderator and I found it very helpful to ask these vulnerable questions with a group of professionals who are working with boards in a similar environment,” Roberts said. “She offered some concrete ways to reassess and re-evaluate board engagement to make sure that diversity and inclusion are genuinely part of the mission.  It’s nice to know that UGA provides guidance and access to help as we look to make our boards more reflective of our mission.”

Col. Jolanda Walker, Army War College Fellow at UGA, also spoke during the conference about the importance of professional development and leadership development within organizations.

Each year, the Fanning Institute presents the Innovations in Community Leadership Award to a community or individual that has moved beyond traditional community leadership programming through innovative practices, partnerships and activities that better serve participants and their communities.

For more information on the certificate programs, click here.


Charlie Bauder Fanning Institute Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


Matt Bishop Fanning Institute Director • 706-542-6201

Institute of Government employee receives PSO award for virtual programming during the pandemic

Carl Vinson Institute of Government Program Coordinator Michael Moryc is the 10th recipient of the Public Service and Outreach Spotlight Award for his work helping institute faculty transition to online programming when the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.

“It’s no surprise how you all responded to COVID and helped governments get through these times,” PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum told Moryc during a Zoom meeting on Feb. 19. “I’m always inspired and in awe of you all.”

Moryc , who works out of the institute’s Atlanta office, enabled the institute to conduct dozens of events virtually including the 2020 Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators, webinars designed to help cities and counties navigate the fiscal crisis created by the pandemic and planning sessions with local governments.

His innovation led to a new line of service for the institute’s state services unit: customized virtual meeting management.

“Michael has consistently provided a high level of service for clients,” said Beverly Johnson, a faculty member in the Vinson Institute who nominated Moryc for the award. “However, his desire to use his skills to help his colleagues and their clients above and beyond his normal duties is worthy of recognition at this level. Because of his willingness to work long hours, problem solving abilities, and collaborative spirit, the institute was able to identify new ways to support clients, create a new line of business and fulfill its mission to ‘promoting excellence in government’.”

Moryc received a gift box of treats and a framed certificate recognizing his Employee Spotlight Award. The award, launched in November, is presented to PSO employees who go above and beyond their normal responsibilities, who produce outstanding work and who contribute significantly to the strategic mission of the university.

For more information or to make a nomination, go to

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Improvements to UGA’s State Botanical Garden make trails, riverbank more accessible

The roughly half dozen miles of nature trails at the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia are frequented by hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Now they are accessible to visitors in wheelchairs, pushing strollers or those who have trouble navigating natural terrain.

More than a decade in the works, the garden’s multi-year project focused on creating easier access to sections of the trail that run alongside the Middle Oconee River, specifically the White and Orange Trails. This included renovating and widening sections of the trail, building a new accessible boardwalk, and installing adjacent ADA accessible parking spots.

“Improving accessibility is extremely important to us,” said Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, director of the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “It’s fundamental to being a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, which serves the public, that we always look for ways to improve accessibility.”

In addition to increasing accessibility to the trail system, the trail realignment project also addressed problems caused by encroaching invasive plant species, heavy use, and years of reoccurring floods that had eroded sections of the trail, making them tenuous or even impossible to cross.

Jim Affolter, director of conservation and research at the botanical garden, spearheaded the efforts to rebuild and improve the trails, which included moving sections of it away from the riverbank and replacing invasive Chinese privet with native Georgia river cane.

“It makes the experience of hiking the trails safer and more pleasurable for a lot of our existing audiences,” said Affolter. “It helps preserve our natural areas by helping address areas with serious erosion. It also opens up natural areas in ways they haven’t been before for folks with differing abilities and limitations.”

The garden received grants from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trails Program and the Riverview Foundation to address these concerns over the past two years. The grant applications included a promise to include workforce development in the trail project.

They brought in the Greening Youth Foundation’s Urban Youth Corps, an Atlanta-based program which connects under-represented youth and young adults with the outdoors and careers in conservation, to help clear exotic invasive plants and build a new trail.

Masked workers from the Greening Youth Foundation cut down Chinese privett.

(L-R) Jalen Thompson, Trey Everett and Makayla Burgh — members of the Greening Youth Foundation’s Urban Youth Corps — work to identify and cut down invasive Chinese privet at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery/PSO).

A team of five youth corps members spent six days working on the trails, learning to identify and remove invasive species while also treating the area to help prevent the damaging plants from returning.

“The overall goal for our young adults is for them to gain skills in green spaces; transferrable skills for them to be able to better their livelihood and become stewards of the environment,” said Daniel Jones, Urban Youth Corps director. “It’s all about empowering these young adults; empowering them in green spaces. Teaching them professional and character development skills.”

Supervised by Gary Crider, the garden’s invasive species technician, the Urban Youth Corps improved the riverbank area and helped create a new trail section that connects the nearby UGArden with the botanical garden’s Orange Trail.

“It’s been phenomenal [working with them],” Crider said. “Manpower is critical to removing this stuff and these guys don’t complain, they work hard, and we’ve been able to get a huge amount done. They’ve exceeded my expectations.”

The revamped and new trail sections are open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day except UGA holidays.

For more information and details on the State Botanical Garden trails, visit

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Aaron Cox PSO Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


Jenny Cruse-Sanders State Botanical Garden Director • 706-542-6131

UGA schedules another webinar to help businesses and nonprofits apply for federal money

UGA Public Service and Outreach will host another webinar on Feb. 26 to help owners and operators of entertainment venues and nonprofits apply for federal funding available through the Economic Aid Act.

The webinar will include representatives from the UGA Small Business Development Center and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, both UGA Public Service and Outreach units. Participants will hear the updated criteria for available funding for several federal programs including: the  Shuttered Venue Operators grant program, which provides financial support for live music and other performing arts venues, arts promoters, movie theaters, and museums that meet specific criteria; the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which provides up to $20 million to small businesses to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses; and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides funding for businesses to keep their workforce employed.

The webinar will be hosted virtually through Zoom at from 10-11:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. There is no cost to participants but registration is required. Register here.


Mark Lupo UGA SBDC Business Education/Resilience Specialist • 706-542-2762

PSO award goes to Fanning Institute researcher for determination, dedication and loyalty

A strategic planning meeting at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development appeared routine until UGA Public Service and Outreach (PSO) Vice President Jennifer Frum appeared on the Zoom screen and called out the latest PSO Employee Spotlight Award winner, Karen Duncan.

“Karen always goes above and beyond the call of duty to assistant whomever she’s working with in her role as a research professional. Her attention to detail and work ethic is present in all of her interactions with faculty, staff and students,” Frum said. “During COVID 19, Karen quickly and seamlessly adapted all of our reporting strategies to meet the evaluation and data needs of teaching and facilitating virtually.”

Duncan received a gift box of treats and a framed certificate recognizing her Employee Spotlight Award, presented to PSO employees who go above and beyond their normal responsibilities, who produce outstanding work and who contribute significantly to the strategic mission of the division.

Duncan’s primary responsibility is to manage Fanning’s administrative database system that records and reports the institute’s work. In this role, she works with all faculty, program coordinators, public relations coordinators and others to ensure the institute’s work is accurately represented and promoted.

Fanning Institute Director Matt Bishop nominated Duncan for the award

“For 30 years, Karen has remained a constant strength and supporter of the units and faculty she has served through her work at the Fanning Institute, Public Service and Outreach, and the University of Georgia,” Bishop wrote in his nomination. “Her determination, dedication and loyalty exemplify commitment to excellence and servant leadership.”

The PSO Employee Spotlight award was established in 2019 as a way to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and contributions of employees throughout the year. Duncan is the ninth PSO employee to receive the award since November 2019.

For more information or to make a nomination, go to

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UGA continues to assist small businesses hurt financially by the pandemic

As federal emergency funding continues to be available to small businesses, the UGA Small Business Development Center is offering webinars and one-to-one assistance to business owners and operators hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since Jan. 1, 2021:

• The UGA SBDC hosted eight webinars on the new Economic Aid Act, which offered help to the businesses hardest hit by COVID-19.

• The UGA SBDC partnered with UGA Agriculture Extension and the Georgia Department of Agriculture to offer a webinar for agribusinesses negatively impacted by the pandemic.

• UGA Public Service and Outreach (PSO) hosted a webinar for owners and operators of entertainment venues.

• Nearly 2,000 small business owners and operators have participated in at least one webinar.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program provides financial support for live music and other performing arts venues, arts promoters, movie theaters, and museums that meet specific criteria. Three PSO units—SBDC, Carl Vinson Institute of Government and J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development—hosted the webinar to offer expertise to private, nonprofit and government-owned entertainment venues.

The SVOG, signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, includes $15 billion in grants. The UGA SBDC plans to organize additional webinars for the SVOG as rules for those funds continue to evolve.

“Nonprofits who are cornerstones to the arts, culture and heritage tourism in Georgia didn’t just face a drop in revenue but a total loss when they faced cancelling events, programming and public outreach and operations all together,” said Jessica Walden, business and leadership advisor to the UGA SBDC and the Fanning Institute. “The Shuttered Venue and Operators Grant will provide federal grant relief to qualified loss.”

Find more COVID-19 resources and webinar schedules at

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Grant boosts development of novel food products from jellyfish

UGA food scientists and marine extension experts received a nearly $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop food products from cannonball jellyfish, which could boost economic growth on the Georgia coast.

Kevin Mis Solval, a food science researcher in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is principal investigator on the project, along with colleague Jinru Chen, a professor of food microbiology; and Bryan Fluech, associate director, and Tori Stivers, seafood safety specialist, with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit.

The team will use the funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to identify opportunities to diversify the domestic jellyfish industry and elevate its impact in the seafood business.

Harvested off the coast of Georgia, cannonball jellyfish, “jellyballs,” have become a prominent catch for fisheries and a way for shrimpers to diversify their catch during the off-season for shrimp. But history has shown that there has never been a domestically sustainable market for jellyfish food products.

A cannonball jellyfish

“Large amounts of jellyfish are harvested on the coasts of Georgia,” said Mis Solval, a food process engineer specializing in developing novel food ingredients in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “But what is harvested is sold almost entirely to Asian markets. A big challenge in creating a more domestic industry will be building the demand by creating a product that people can use in their everyday lives.”

Rather than preparing whole jellyfish as snacks or packaged meals — which would require a major investment in large-scale processing facilities and could come across as unappealing — Mis Solval had the innovative idea to engineer dry food ingredients that could be used in several food applications and supplements.

The key element is collagen, a naturally existing protein that is found in high concentration in cannonball jellyfish.

“I was incredibly excited when I found out about the amount of high-quality collagen that is in jellyfish,” said Mis Solval. “One of the most important qualities was that jellyfish collagen is edible and can be used to create a diverse grouping of dry food ingredients like stabilizers and thickeners as well as collagen peptide supplements.”

Mis Solval’s experience in the food industry and his expertise in engineering novel foods using modern technologies, and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s history with the fishing industry in Georgia, created a synergy that made it possible to accomplish common goals, Fluech said.

“Having Kevin as a part of the team as a food engineer is so vital to the entire research effort,” Fluech added.

Workers process harvested cannonball jellyfish on a metal tableCreating a domestic market for jellyfish could be a much-needed boost for the Georgia coast, which has had to adapt over time to natural and man-made changes in the fishing industry. One company, Golden Island International, already invested in a processing facility in McIntosh County, where the jellyfish are dried and salted before being shipped to Asia.

“Developing these new methods for harvesting and production will be beneficial for a variety of working parties — particularly plant employees and fishermen,” Stivers said. “This will allow seasonal shrimpers and companies to develop more year-round objectives and keep their jobs.”

For domestic companies, it also mitigates their risk by limiting the percentage of revenue that comes from overseas business — a dangerous gamble in cases of trade wars or increased tariffs. Generating a domestic revenue stream is beneficial and allows the seafood industry to capitalize on multiple outlets of income.

For more information about the UGA Department of Food Science and Technology, visit Follow new developments from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at


Sean Montgomery Social Media & Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-0944

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Georgia Center food and banquet manager is in the PSO Employee Spotlight

Katie Phillips is the latest Public Service and Outreach employee surprised with an Employee Spotlight award during a Zoom meeting.

Phillips, food and beverage banquet manager at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, was nominated for the award by Georgia Center Director Stacy Jones after Jones received two letters from customers praising Phillips for her service.

“Thank you for helping me provide a (First Year Odyssey) social event this year that was enjoyable and relatively stress free,” wrote education professor Michele Lease. “It’s part of my FYOS each year that students really enjoy, and I was worried that it would not be possible to pull it off this fall.”

Lease placed individual orders for each of her students so that they could get exactly what they wanted. Phillips labeled each wrapped order with the students’ names so they could easily pick their meal out of the bunch without lingering close to other people.

“You really embody the spirit of what we want to recognize with the Employee Spotlight,” PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum told Phillips in presenting the award over Zoom. “Thanks for making the Georgia Center look good. Thank you for making UGA look so good. It really reflects so well on all of us.”

Phillips also heard from Naomi Norman, associate vice president for instruction and director of the FYOS program.

“Everything that has been so disrupted for everyone that it’s wonderful to know that people are finding creative ways to bring people together,” Norman wrote.

Phillips received a gift basket of treats and a framed certificate recognizing the award.

“Not only did these individuals see Katie’s commitment to the Georgia Center but they also saw an employee who pays attention to the details, understands the individuals she is serving, and does it all with enthusiasm and a smile,” Jones said. “She personifies the service standard we want and strive for in our work at the Georgia Center.”

Find out more about the PSO Spotlight and how to nominate an employee at

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Adapting to COVID-19 restrictions puts veterinary hospital back on track for expansion financing

UGA alumnus Dr. Mike Ammermon opened Pooler Veterinary Hospital in 2013 with one full-time and one part-time veterinarian and two staff members. By 2018, he had four veterinarians and 20 staff members, and needed more space.

His design for a new facility included seven exam rooms, two surgery units, a dental suite and separate treatment areas for dogs and cats.

A long-time client of the UGA Small Business Development Center, he worked with Becky Brownlee, area director of the Savannah office, to secure Small Business Administration (SBA) funding for the new hospital. Together, they developed a business plan and financial projections, which he took to the bank.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“The lender came back to us for project revisions,” Brownlee said. “They, like all lenders, were suddenly required to show the pandemic’s impact on all outstanding loan applications.”

“Our loan went on the back burner,” Ammermon said. “The larger question for us was how we’d continue to operate and keep our staff paid and intact. Fortunately, we could pivot and focus on how to take care of our clients’ pets under the new safety measures.”

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The hospital instituted curbside service using new mobile pay readers. It saw only sick or emergency cases at first, eventually resuming normal functions. During the first two weeks, its workflow flipped from disrupted to efficient, putting its case volume and revenues back on track.

“So, we moved forward with the SBA loan, working with Becky to update our projections. That made the SBA comfortable with moving forward,” Ammermon said.”

“The lesson Mike brings to all businesses is, when something bad happens, make adjustments to your operations and continue on,” Brownlee said. “The hospital is flourishing now.”

“If a small business owner feels they’re moving into unfamiliar territory, it is very easy to contact the SBDC and get great advice,” Ammermon said. “I’ve found a good thing, so I’m sticking with it.”