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Hometown Heroes: Vanessa Wagner

There are heroes working to improve the communities they love all across the state. Let's meet some of them.


What do you love most about your community?

There is an energy in the air that something exciting is happening. You can just feel it. Over the past few years, I have observed new businesses opening, locals that left who are now returning to raise families, and many exciting initiatives tied to talent development and supporting local businesses. That energy is helping the community build on its history and innovate for a more resilient future.

What is your role?

The Golden Isles Development Authority (Development Authority) is the organization responsible for creating jobs and investment in Glynn County by supporting the attraction, retention, and expansion of businesses. We are a small team, so we need to wear many hats. Still, one of my core responsibilities is communicating the value and opportunities of locating and growing a business in the Golden Isles. Additionally, when we identify an initiative that can increase our competitiveness to attract business or strengthen our current business climate- I help plan and execute those strategic programs.

How long have you been here?

I just celebrated my second anniversary after relocating from Northern Virginia. As a Buffalo, NY native, I just keep finding my way to warmer weather.


What do rural communities need as a catalyst to cultivate more innovation?

Committed leaders. Communities benefit from individuals committed to innovation. These leaders need both the network and vision to get things done. They can come from the schools, churches, volunteers- anywhere in your community. Leaders don't have to be elected officials or exist in organizations like economic development.

Before starting an innovation initiative, it is imperative to identify leaders from across the community that will support it. These are the cheerleaders and optimists that can gather people in the community to inspire change and get things done.

Can you give some examples of rural innovation you already see in your community?

The developments in Historic Brunswick are a great example of innovation taking place. They also showcase what is possible when the public and private -sectors come together.

Nearly two years ago, the public sector began investigating the opportunity for additional housing in the City of Brunswick. The housing study focused on the downtown district specifically. The study results were favorable for growth, and that message was shared through informational town halls, speaking events at the college, etc.

Since that time, the private sector has been busy converting properties into new residential or mixed-use developments. In some cases, these projects have qualified for publically available programs like grants or the Federal Opportunity Zone program.

Today Brunswick has small offices for entrepreneurs at The Wick and 1608 Liberty, while Port City Partners is building a mixed-use environment with modern lofts on Newcastle. It's undoubtedly an exciting time to be in the area and see this innovation in action.


What challenges are entrepreneurs facing in rural communities?

A challenge that I have observed in rural communities is that information on local, state, or national resources can be scattered across different agencies or information gatekeepers. An essential first step for any innovation ecosystem building is to inventory the applicable resources and make that information accessible. Accessible could be in the form of a website or at a physical location; the vital part is that the community members know how to access it.

What's a specific thing you'd like to see happen in your community?

The Golden Isles is known for its natural beauty and world-class amenities, which is why it is a top tourist destination. As a result, we have many business owners and C-suite executives that spend a portion of their time visiting or living here. We are currently working on an opportunity to better engage with this part-time community through a mentorship program.

The College of Coastal Georgia has been doing this for years, inviting these professionals to assist students through lectures or coaching. The next step is opening this up to all entrepreneurs and business owners.

Name someone else who's wearing a cape for innovation in your community?

Lori Peacock, Golden Isles College, and Career Academy. Lori is the Chief Executive Officer/CTAE Director for the Glynn Co. School District. She has a bold vision for the future of the career academy and has already implemented some exciting programs that will benefit the students and employers of the Golden Isles.

Tell me one fun fact about where you call home.

The history of Coastal Georgia is fascinating, but one fun fact is that during WWII, women got called to work in the Shipyards at Brunswick. During this time, the construction of an individual ship in Brunswick was reduced from over a year to under two months. It's a fun fact about the role women have played in our local manufacturing sector, but it also demonstrates the value of having diverse talent working together on a common goal.