published Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Incubating input: Thrive 2055 gathers ideas from tri-state region

Donna VanDevander, of Bradley County, reads posters giving the region's citizens facts about population and growth, working groups and the key regional drivers and values during the Thrive 2055 pubic meeting held Wednesday afternoon in the Chattanooga Public Library downtown. VanDevander said of the chance to voice her concerns about the region, "It's exciting to give input about the area and what concerns I have and expect for them (the city) to listen."
Donna VanDevander, of Bradley County, reads posters giving the region's citizens facts about population and growth, working groups and the key regional drivers and values during the Thrive 2055 pubic meeting held Wednesday afternoon in the Chattanooga Public Library downtown. VanDevander said of the chance to voice her concerns about the region, "It's exciting to give input about the area and what concerns I have and expect for them (the city) to listen."
Photo by Connor Choate.

WHAT'S NEXT

Thrive 2055 organizers hold another input incubator tonight from 5-8 p.m. at the Colannade in Ringgold.

ABOUT THRIVE 2055

• 40-year plan

• 3 states

• 16 counties

• 79 municipalities

• 1 million people

Rosemary Varner, of Signal Mountain, said Wednesday she's worried about protecting the region's watersheds and wetlands from over-development.

"We're going to environmental hell in a catamaran," she said at a public meeting for Thrive 2055, a new 40-year planning effort for the 16-county area.

Nearly 200 people were expected to turn out during the three-hour session Wednesday night at the downtown Chattanooga library. It was the third of four such "input incubators" in the region to garner public opinion in the biggest planning initiative ever tried in the three-state area.

Greg Dale, a Thrive 2055 consultant, said the meeting and two held earlier this week in Rainsville, Ala., and Athens, Tenn., are part of "the learning and listening process" for the three-year, $3 million exercise that started late in 2012.

Plans are to collect public comments, summarize them for a 30-member Thrive 2055 coordinating panel and then try to turn the public suggestions into a plan to help guide the region's future.

Participants were encouraged Wednesday to write down their ideas on sheets of paper attached to walls under four general topics: prospects, people, places and paths. There were also so-called "idea polling" sessions every half hour, in which people responded to "value statements" and indicated how strongly they support them.

John Peckinpaugh, of Hixson, said he took part in the session to because he believes people need a voice. He's especially concerned about decisions which may involve private property, he said.

"This could drastically affect our lives," Peckinpaugh said.

Lloyd Longnion, of Chattanooga, said he lives in the Southside and wants to ensure the city's neighborhoods are represented in the proper way.

"We want to make sure there's a neighborhood-out point of view [to the region] rather than the region to the neighborhood," she said.

Duane Johnson, of Signal Mountain, said he has a business that's involved in a Marion County, Tenn., industrial park, so logistics and rail are key issues for him.

He said rush-hour traffic in Chattanooga can be a problem for businesses. Johnson said the city's Volkswagen plant has a 45-minute, just-in-time requirement for local suppliers and the city's traffic bottlenecks create a problem.

Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said about 60 people took part in the Alabama meeting and another 80 or so in the Athens session.

"There has been a lot of interest," said Harr, whose business group is overseeing Thrive 2055.

With the addition of three of the biggest new ventures ever in the region -- Volkswagen, Wacker and Amazon -- the Chattanooga region is prepped for gains in business wealth, population and cutting-edge innovation and technology. The 16-county region is projected to add nearly 400,000 more residents by 2055.

That growth could cause some growing pains. More immigration and natural population growth are expected to create new challenges for planning how residents will be housed, educated and transported in an area where the built environment is already crowding up against its natural beauty.

Plans are for the initiative to culminate in action plans for the region by 2015.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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