Originally created 06/20/03

City sets up for Bush visit



GREENSBORO, Ga. - President Bush has selected the affluent Reynolds Plantation in Greene County for his first campaign stop outside of Washington, D.C.

The president will speak tonight at a $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser for his 2004 re-election bid. He will fly in this afternoon, motor to the Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee and address supporters at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the evening.

Residents buzzing about the visit began decorating early, hanging flags from storefronts Thursday afternoon.

Elaine Ellis, who works at Hunter's Drug Store on Main Street, said the president's visit has stirred the community.

"It's a small town getting to experience something normal for a place like Atlanta," she said.

Mr. Bush visited Greene County during his 2000 campaign, and Mercer Reynolds, the owner of Reynolds Plantation, is one reason the president is returning. Mr. Reynolds leads Mr. Bush's campaign finance committee and, with the president, had co-owned the Texas Rangers.

A quarter-century ago, Greene County would have been an unlikely first choice for such an ambitious fund-raiser, but after Georgia Power Co. built Lake Oconee in 1979, millionaires began settling in exclusive lake-front communities and have helped change the face of the county.

To Ms. Ellis and other small-business owners in Greensboro, Lake Oconee has been a godsend.

"We've gone from dirt roads to streets paved three times," Ms. Ellis said. "I think the lake has saved the town."

Greene County has changed, too, shifting from manufacturing to service and hospitality.

Lake Oconee gated communities such as Reynolds Plantation, Port Armor, Great Waters and Cuscawilla all feature golf courses and hire locals for maintenance, front desk and valet jobs. Reynolds Plantation employs about 400 workers.

The Ritz-Carlton that opened in 2001 employs about 450. The Publix grocery store that opened in the lake area employs about 120 people. Civic leaders such as Greene County Commission Chairman Tim Bramlett acknowledge that the flourishing resorts along the lake are contributing to growth countywide.

"Lake Oconee is the economic engine for Greene County," Mr. Bramlett said. "As long as the area around Lake Oconee grows, the county will grow also."