Panel eyes plans for future of 16-county Chattanooga region

Panel eyes plans for future of 16-county Chattanooga region

December 14th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Daniel Carter compares one of many maps produced through the Marion County Chamber of Commerce and the city of Jasper, showing one of the locations for greenway walking trails that could become part of a bigger network. The beaver dam in the center of the photo would be a spot for school students to watch from a planned observation deck.

Photo by Randall Higgins/Times Free Press.

ABOUT THE REGION

Population growth in the 16-county, tri-state area:

• 1990 - 806,000

• 2000 - 920,000

• 2010 - 1.01 million

Source: Thrive 2055

COUNTIES IN 40-YEAR PLAN

Tennessee: Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, Sequatchie

Georgia: Catoosa, Dade, Murray, Walker, Whitfield

Alabama: DeKalb, Jackson

Business and government leaders trying to plot the future of the 16-county Chattanooga region are looking at studying everything from water, sewers and health to education, transportation and jobs.

"If there's an overriding issue it's sewer and water," Daniel Carter, a member of the Thrive 2055 coordinating panel, said during a steering committee session Thursday. "It's an infrastructure issue that's important to everyone."

But another member of the panel crafting a 40-year plan for the tri-state region said that jobs are key.

"At the end of the day, it's all about jobs," said Chuck Dobbins of Dalton, Ga.-based Shaw Industries. "From a prosperity standpoint, that's important."

Brian Anderson, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce's chief executive and chairman of the 28-member panel, said that Thursday was the first time they'd heard from the smaller "working groups" of the larger body.

The activity of the groups is among the early steps in the three-year, $3 million Thrive 2055 planning initiative that started this year.

Anderson said plans are to spend the first year identifying issues, the second prioritizing them and the third coming up with an implementation plan.

He said Thrive 2055 will have "multiple levels" of public outreach, including a new website that's already up at www.thrive2055.com.

Bridgett Massengill, the project director since late summer, said about 2,000 miles have been traveled in recent months getting to know the region and meeting with interested parties.

"It's been an eye-opening experience," she said, citing the region's diversity.

Denny Mobbs, an attorney and Polk County resident, mentioned the importance of completing the Chickamauga Lake lock to the transport of goods.

He also mentioned expanding broadband connectivity to the region.

Panel member Bruz Clark of the Lyndhurst Foundation talked about regionalism and the idea of counties uniting to compete against other regions.

He also said that Thrive 2055 "isn't a 5- or 10-year plan but a long-range plan."

Another panelist, Bob Doak, cited so-called core issues such as community health, public safety, housing, arts and cultural heritage and recreation and tourism.

"We're trying to get our arms around all of this," he said. "There's a lot to do."

Dobbins noted that manufacturing is still a key economic driver to the region, unlike some others. He added that an educated workforce is another issue his group can't stop talking about.