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The Thrive 2055 coalition was formed, among other reasons, to help communities in the area preserve what’s best of their individual characters in the face of rapid growth. Speaking at Friday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Guthrie's restaurant were, from left, Thrive’s Brian Anderson, Ryan Dale and J. Ed Marston.

By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter


Do you care about where you live? Then it’s time to start thinking about how to preserve the good things about home, before home disappears under acres of asphalt and deadlock traffic. 

That was the message at Friday’s Dade County Chamber of Commerce luncheon from two speakers for “Thrive 2055,” a public/private coalition formed recently to help the tri-state area plan intelligently for expected future growth.  

“What we don’t want to become is Atlanta,” said one of the Thrive speakers, Brian Anderson of the Greater Dalton Chamber Area of Commerce.

The other main speaker at the luncheon, J. Ed Marston of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, said he was himself an escapee from the Atlanta gridlock. “That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about this project,” he said.

With all the longed-for economic boons that Volkswagen and other major businesses have brought to the Chattanooga area, said the speakers, rapid growth also brings rapid change, which, if left to chance, can threaten quality of life. That, they said, is why local leaders and ordinary citizens need to take a hard look at what needs to be altered and what preserved about life as we know it.

Atlanta was not the only city that took heat as a cautionary tale. Anderson pointed out that before Greenville, S.C., became the home of a BMW plant, it had been a small, sleepy Southern town. “In a 16-year period, you have seen almost a tenfold of putting acreage under asphalt there,” he said.

Greenville wasn’t ready for the change, said Anderson, and the Chattanooga area should learn from its growing pains. “You’re better off planning than reacting,” he said. “We’re going to have a different reality in 10 years. Let’s plan for it.” 

And one thing to plan for traffic-wise, he said, is basic geography. Unlike Atlanta and Greenville, this area’s scenic rivers and mountains would prevent Chattanooga and its surrounding towns from building an unbridled sprawl of outer highway and perimeters.

On the subject of geography and infrastructure, Anderson also pointed out why repairing its Tennessee River locks was so important to Chattanooga: If commerce can’t float down the river in boats it will commence rolling down the road in 18-wheelers, further complicating the already problematic transportation picture locally.  

A third speaker, intern Ryan Dale, pointed out other issues communities should consider during rapid change: health care, education, the environment, historic preservation, alignment of education and training, industrial site availability.

As to economic development situation, said Dale, one of the goals Thrive has in bringing together representatives from cities and counties across Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia is determining when it makes sense for them to vie for jobs among themselves and when to work together. “We’re really competing with Mexico and other places across the world,” he said.

Marston highlighted the need to consider how well education is matching up these days with job requirements. In many cases, he said, local workers laid off during the recession do not have the skills to be hired by employers during the expected boom. “The needs of business have evolved tremendously in the past few years,” he said.  

Thrive 2055 seeks to discuss these factors, and other regional planning concerns, with 95 elected chairpersons and mayors from 16 counties in the three states. “As we have started this process, we have learned that these people are getting together for the first time,” said Marston. “If we don’t do anything else, just connecting people across state lines is hugely powerful.”

Communication is not the only barrier to regional planning, he said. Another is a familiar culprit:  money. The current recession has taken its toll on local governments. “Right now, budgeting is more or less on a year-to-year level,” said Marston.

Marston and Anderson stressed that Thrive’s function is not to override these beleaguered local governments but to help however it could. “This is not a group that has any power,” said Anderson.

The speakers said Thrive’s was a three-year plan. Year one will be spent in gathering information, year two in establishing goals and benchmarks, and year three in implementing them.

The first step, they said, is to establish communication across the targeted area and identify what needs and concerns of the tri-state area should be addressed in step two as a long-term plan is developed for the region.

To that end, Thrive is sponsoring through the end of February grassroots “meetings-in-a-box” for which volunteer leaders from the community are being sought. “Box meeting” components can be a civic organization, school group, Sunday school class – just any small or large segment of the community that can be brought together to discuss what needs to stay and what needs to go in these parts as the area marches into the future.

If you are interested leading or participating in a Thrive meeting-in-a-box, Marston and Anderson urge you to contact project coordinator Bridgett Massengill at bmassengill@Thrive2055.com or (423) 648.29.

You can also visit Thrive’s website, thrive55.com, or simply call the Dade County Chamber of Commerce for more information at (706) 657-4488. 

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