Georgia Chamber President: Hall Has Prosperity, but Also Serious Poverty

Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark speaks at a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday morning.

Despite economic positives, such as job growth, Hall County has a serious poverty issue that it needs to deal with, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s president told a Gainesville audience Wednesday morning.

“As prosperous as you are, as well as you’ve done, over 25 percent of your kids live in poverty,” Chris Clark told a group meeting for a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce breakfast, citing census data. “Does that surprise anyone in the room?”

He said he shocked a very influential community with a similar revelation.

“They told me I was wrong,” Clark said. “I suggested to them they drive a different way home. I said I saw it coming into your community, but you’ve … turned a blind eye to it.

“Successful communities are going to have a strategy of how to deal with this poverty rate issue. It is a concern for us.”

Clarks said impoverished children aren’t just struggling at home.

“That’s the future workforce,” he said.

Joy Griffin, president and chief professional officer of United Way of Hall County, said the data “was really eye-opening.”

Hall County’s overall poverty numbers may be skewed by “prosperous seniors” living in the community.

“So, when you see that number of children living in poverty, it gives a truer picture of what our poverty picture is in Hall County,” Griffin said.

Last year, United Way launched its One Hall initiative “to break the cycle of poverty in Hall County by seeking to understand poverty from the perspective of our most vulnerable citizens,” its website states.

The program has five key focuses: affordable housing, accessible health care, jobs, education and hunger alleviation.

“The faith-based community has a role, as well,” Griffin said. “When you’re experiencing poverty, isolation is the greatest issue. You don’t have that (support) network.”

In his presentation filled with demographic and other data, Clark said Georgia is facing many challenges, including poverty and graduation rates.

“It used to be that government would solve (some issues) and businesses would solve (other) issues, and maybe nonprofits would be over here doing their work,” he said. “No. We’ve got to do this together.”

Private and public sectors need to collaborate but also involve higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations and the faith-based community.

“A lot of the issue we’re dealing with — the faith-based community is probably better to deal with them,” Clark said. “They’re on the front line. We need to work with them to make sure they’ve got the resources.”

Also, there needs to be diversity among those working to tackle issues.

“It can’t just be a bunch of old white guys anymore,” Clark said.

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