Chattanooga near center of 16-county effort going small for results

Chattanooga near center of 16-county effort going small for results

February 22nd, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region
Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

THRIVE 2055 FOOTPRINT

* Total land area: 3.2 million square acres

* Counties: Tennessee-9; Georgia,-5; Alabama-2

* Metropolitan statistical areas: Chattanooga, Dalton, Ga., Cleveland, Tenn.

* Web site: www.thrive2055.com

Thrive 2055, the ambitious 16-county regional growth planning effort for the Chattanooga area, is going small over the next few weeks with hopes of gaining big results.

The initiative is pushing citizen brainstorming sessions, or so-called "meetings in a box," to garner input on the region's future.

"We want to get unbiased opinions from people in the region," said Bridgett Massengill, the effort's project manager.

Anyone can hold a group meeting by going online and finding discussion questions at www.thrive2055.com, she said.

"The idea is that there is a one-page work sheet which has simple questions that are open ended," she said. "Folks can go in any direction they want to go."

Massengill said the meeting leader can then fill in and submit a PDF form online to Thrive 2055.

The goal is for multiple meetings in each of the 16 counties, Massengill said. She said Thrive 2055 organizers want to get the results back by the end of March.

"We know how important it is to get folks to do this and help shape the entire process," Massengill said.

Some already have tried out the session format.

Joel Houser, executive director of Crabtree Farms, said about 30 people showed up at a recent meeting in a box.

"We thought it was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "We targeted our audience to get our issues and concerns considered."

Crabtree Farms promotes locally-grown produce and artisan-crafted goods.

"We wanted to have a voice and recommend smart ways to grow," Houser said.

Gary Pennell, a history teacher at Collegedale Academy, said 97 mostly senior students took part in a recent Thrive 2055 meeting in a box.

He said it was a chance for students to share ideas with "some people who will be the movers and shakers in his area."

"They were very much engaged," Pennell said. "They shared some collective opinions they came up with."

He said one student made the point, for example, that Chattanooga still had a small-town feel to it even with the array of new development it has experienced.

Brian Anderson, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce chief who is Thrive 2055's chairman, said the aim is to reach as many people as possible in the region.

"This method is proving to be an effective and meaningful way to get people talking about the future of this region," he said in a statement.

Thrive 2055, the first-ever such planning effort in the region, is a three-year initiative which started in 2012.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County have each committed $500,000 while local foundations are investing $1 million, officials have said. The Chamber has raised $540,000 from the private sector as well.