Locals weigh in on Thrive 2055 efforts

Locals weigh in on Thrive 2055 efforts

April 24th, 2013 by Rachel Sauls-Wright in Local Regional News

Karen Hundt and John Bridger of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency answer questions at the recent North Georgia Thrive 2055 Input Incubator. This research session is part of the three-year, 16-county panning initiative currently ongoing in North Georgia, Tennessee and North Alabama.

Photo by Rachel Sauls-Wright/Times Free Press.

Locals recently had the opportunity to weigh in on a 16-county strategic plan called Thrive 2055 that includes a large portion of Northwest Georgia.

The plan that is under development for the next two and a half years will carry Georgia's Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield and Murray counties through the next four decades alongside parts of North Alabama and Tennessee. It has four major focus areas: paths, places, prosperity and people.

At a recent Input Incubator session, the Thrive 2055 coordinating committee hosted an open meeting to showcase some of the information it has already gathered, as well as to give people an opportunity to give additional feedback on the plan.

Keith Barclift, project manager for the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority, said he attended the Input Incubator session to show support for the planning initiative. While there, he also found out more about what the committee gleaned from the dozens of Meetings in a Box the group had provided to gain feedback from people across the region.

"Only three of the four counties we serve are in the metropolitan area the plan focuses on," he said, adding that Chattooga County is not part of the 16-county plan. "For us, one of the main issues is that a good portion of our workforce lives in Georgia but works in Chattanooga. I hope to see transportation issues relieved and more prospective employers in Georgia that can serve the entire region."

Bridgett Massengill, project coordinator for Thrive 2055, said that after conducting dozens and dozens of meetings, both through the Meeting in a Box program and with other stakeholders in the area, some of the recurring themes have been the need for improving education, companies that have jobs available but don't have a qualified workforce to fill those jobs and the preservation of the region's natural beauty and character while supporting growth at the same time.

"This is a new way of thinking here about planning and talking about issues," she said. "This is not a roadwork planning session where we've already made the plan and are just sharing it with the community. We really actually do care about people's thoughts when it comes to shaping this plan."

The entire first year of the three-year planning process has been dedicated solely to research, and the first round of Input Incubators, which included meetings in North Georgia, North Alabama, downtown Chattanooga and Athens, Tenn., mark the approximate halfway point. The next step in the process is analyzing the data from the Input Incubators and hosting another round of more specific Meetings in a Box around targeted issues.

"Under the education top issue, we'll probably end up pulling in people from all 16 counties to talk about how we're doing and ways to improve," said Massengill. "Yes, that draws out the planning process but we've got 16 counties here and we need all of their input."

She said the Thrive 2055 committee plans to host another round of Input Incubators later this fall before moving into the second year of the planning process, which will be dedicated to establishing a regional vision that comes from the team's research along with setting benchmarks to evaluate success. The third year will be dedicated to the creation of action strategies and tools while transitioning from the planning process to active implementation.

For more information about the planning initiative or to find out more about how to get involved, visit www.thrive2055.com.