Representatives and residents from the and around Oconee County gave a warm welcome to about 50 'Heart & Soul' Bus Tour members Thursday morning.
The three-day bus tour, organized by the Georgia Municipal Association and the Georgia Cities Foundation, is currently in its tenth year, but it was the first year that Watkinsville was included.
The purpose is to visit areas of the state where downtowns are being revitalized, said Michael Starr, president of the Georgia Cities Foundation.
"It's very obvious that Watkinsville has taken efforts to deal with issues like traffic, zoning, codes...and they've done an exceptional job," Starr said. "If you create an environment that is nice to live, work, and play in, you develop economically as a city internally."
Local developers from other cities, private investors, state officials with the Department of Community Affairs, the head of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, members of the Georgia Municipal Association, other state officials and congressional aides were among tour members, Starr said.
Rick Huszagh, a developer and member of the Monroe Downtown Development Authority, said touring cities allows for sharing of ideas and networking.
“It’s nice to share ideas about projects and learn about different ways of funding,” he said.
Huszagh is the CEO of Down to Earth Energy, a company that produces biodiesel and solar energy.
As tour members arrived at , band performed patriotic music. From there, the walking tour passed by the , and Patriot Park, with assistance from Watkinsville police who directed traffic. The group stopped by Town Center and then hopped on a hayride courtesy of , which ended at the .
"It's exciting to see a group like this select Watkinsville as a stop," Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis said. "Anytime a tour like this comes through, the county sees the benefits."
Other cities on the 2011 tour are Athens, Conyers, Covington, Monroe, Greensboro, Washington, Augusta, Thomson, and Madison.