Georgia's Rural Center Logo

ABAC 12, 2802 Moore Highway, Tifton, GA  31793 229·391·4847

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© 2020 by Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation   |   Proudly designed by .eloise. design co.     |    Photography by Steve Robinson

ABOUT THE CENTER

The legislation that created Georgia’s Rural Center in 2018 painted a simple, clear picture of the situation in which many of the state’s small towns and rural communities find themselves today. As House Bill 951 pointed out, a host of once-vibrant places throughout Georgia are now plagued by population loss, insufficient access to health care and quality education, poor infrastructure, lack of employment opportunities, and a general economic stagnation.

In 2017, rural leaders approached Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College President Dr. David Bridges and Special Projects Director Scott Blount with the idea of creating a rural center for Georgia. Out of the initial conceptual proposal drafted by Bridges and Blount, the team transformed the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation from vision to reality.

 

Housed at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, which may include community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with non-profits, religious organizations and other higher education partners. With a focus on producing results that directly impact rural people and places, Georgia’s Rural Center works to reconnect the state’s rural and urban people and places, rediscovering all that is unique and extraordinary in the state’s less populated areas and reminding all Georgians of the power and potential present in small towns and crossroads communities.

From the beginning, we said the Rural Center would be outcome-based, and that is precisely what we plan to be—less of a ‘think tank’ and more of a work horse. We believe it’s time to reintroduce all that this state’s small towns and rural communities have to offer.

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Dr. David Bridges

 

OUR PEOPLE

DAVID BRIDGES

Interim Director

Dr. David Bridges serves as the Rural Center’s interim director. Raised on a farm in southwest Georgia’s Terrell County, Dr. Bridges’ understanding of and concern for the state’s small towns and rural communities were a driving force behind the center’s establishment. Dr. Bridges has served as president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton since 2006. Prior to his tenure at ABAC, he led the University of Georgia’s Tifton campus as assistant dean of UGA’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Dr. Bridges is a highly respected agriculturist who spent the first 18 years of his career in the classroom as a faculty member first at Texas A&M University, where he earned his Ph.D., and subsequently at UGA. He holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Auburn University as well as an associate’s degree from ABAC.

SCOTT BLOUNT

Associate Director

Scott Blount is a native of Waycross, Georgia, and a graduate of the University of Georgia, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics. Prior to beginning his role as associate director of the Rural Center, Blount also completed a master’s degree at Valdosta State University while serving Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College as director of special projects. Blount spent 11 years as the senior budget and policy analyst for the Georgia House of Representatives before joining the ABAC team. In that role, he oversaw the state’s higher education budgets. Drawing on his experience in state government, and after researching other states’ rural centers extensively, Blount, along with Dr. David Bridges, developed the initial concept that would be used to draft House Bill 951 and establish Georgia’s Rural Center.

BRIDGETT MOBLEY

Logistics & Operations Manager

Bridgett Mobley is a native of Tifton, Georgia, where the Rural Center is located on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and serves as the center’s logistics and operations manager. Mobley began her undergraduate studies at ABAC before completing her bachelor’s degree in speech communications at Valdosta State University. She worked as a career services specialist at Moultrie Technical College for five years before joining the ABAC staff as the internship and job placement coordinator for the Stafford School of Business. In addition to her work with the center, Mobley is an active leader with the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce, which she has served as a member of the board of directors, community development chairman and leader of the Business Education Workforce Development Committee.

JANET COCHRAN

Project Manager

Janet Cochran serves the Rural Center as a project manager focusing on the state's northern rural counties, operating out of an office in Ellijay. Cochran graduated from Lee University in Cleveland, TN, with a bachelor's in communication, launching her career in tourism marketing and development. She served the Dalton community as executive director of the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau for ten years before moving into a regional position with the Georgia Department of Economic Development as a tourism project manager in 2006. In that role, Cochran worked alongside community leaders, other state agencies and marketing professionals to promote and grow the state's tourism economy. She and her husband Hubert reside in Tunnel Hill.

JESSICA AKINS

Communication Manager

Jessica Akins grew up on her family’s grain and beef cattle operation in rural Radnor, Ohio, and is part of the fourth generation to participate in the farm’s management. She spent much of her youth showing steers and heifers throughout the U.S. at various national livestock events. During her years of showing, she served as the American Chianina Association’s national queen and vice president of the American Junior Chianina Association. She holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sales and marketing and agricultural communication from Purdue University as well as a master’s in agricultural education and communication from the University of Florida. Akins has worked with livestock breeders to enhance their brand awareness and communication efforts as a freelance communication consultant. She and her husband, Chandler, live in and experience rural Georgia every day, where he farms full-time with his family. In addition to her work with the Rural Center, Akins is a faculty member in agricultural communication at ABAC.

MARY CATHERINE GASTON

Communication Specialist

Mary Catherine Gaston holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Auburn University and a master’s in urban and regional planning from Virginia Tech. From her experiences growing up in a small town in south Alabama, Gaston gained a deep appreciation for rural people and communities. Prior to joining the Rural Center, Gaston was part of the communication and marketing team for Auburn University’s College of Agriculture, where she served as social media manager as well as a writer and editor for the college’s award-winning magazine, The Season. She also has nearly a decade’s experience working in rural local governments in south Alabama and northern Virginia. Gaston and her husband, Wes, live in the Concord community in Sumter County, where they are raising two girls, row crops and cattle on ground the Gaston family has farmed for the past century.

LOREN LINDLER

Communication Specialist

Loren Lindler is a communication specialist for the center. Lindler holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communication from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). Through her experiences growing up in Lexington, South Carolina, Lindler gained a deep appreciation for rural communities and the agriculture industry. She recently served as a communication intern at the center before joining the team full time. Prior to joining the Rural Center, previous internships include working with the Sunbelt Ag Expo, Georgia FFA Association, Georgia FFA Foundation, Georgia Forestry Association, ABAC, and, most recently, DTN/Progressive Farmer. She has focused her efforts on marketing, communications, social media, and writing.

OUR MISSION

Georgia’s Rural Center exists to RECONNECT the state’s rural and urban people and places, REDISCOVERING all that is unique and extraordinary in the state’s less populated areas and reminding all Georgians of the power and potential present in small towns and crossroads communities.
 
We work to recognize successful businesses and efforts and help other communities RECREATE those models throughout the state.
 
Believing that people are Georgia’s most valuable asset, we REINVEST human capital in the state’s rural fringes through internship placement and innovative projects.