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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.