Thrive 2055 is a three-year study, funded by the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and donations through the Chattanooga Foundation, focused on a region of 16 counties in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
Thrive 2055 communications coordinator Maggie Neff said the study is in its second year.
The event used “possible futures” as a basis for starting the conversation of what community members valued for focusing on as future plans for the region develop. Each of the possible futures listed scenarios that could increase industry, multi-family housing, keep farmland intact or improve transportation. Because the projected futures are not plans for specific projects, a plan could eventually be developed to take the best elements from each and implement it by 2055.
Although many possible scenarios were presented, a possible regional loop that would “improve east-west connectivity and provide alternative routes for freight and passenger movement,” if constructed, stood out to many of those in attendance.
The proposed loop would connect Dade, Whitfield and Catoosa counties in Georgia with Bradley, Hamilton, Sequatchie and Marion counties in Tennessee through a continuous loop that would bypass the downtown.
Kirk Johnson of Chattanooga said the proposed placement “has it going across Lookout Mountain and the Cumberland Plateau.” He said he did not think it could be built in the locations suggested. He also said the cost could also be a prohibiting factor. However, he said if it could be constructed it would be economically beneficial.
Neff said the loop would “connect the three major highways in our area.”
Bradley County resident Pamela Rymer O’Dryer was concerned by the impact that such a loop may have on rural and scenic areas.
“We want to make sure they do not put a loop through our farmland and our water sources, south of 64,” O’Dryer said.
She said she feels a better placement would be to tie into APD 40.
Preserving the rural and scenic areas, she said, was the main element she was concerned about for the future.
John Chandler of Bradley County said he supports “planned development,” but would like the natural beauty of McDonald and areas like it preserved.
Thrive 2055 does not have the authority to implement any of the strategic plans it will develop based on the community input it gathers. However, Neff said Thrive 2055 committee members have bi-monthly meetings with elected officials in the region to share updates and input from the community.
Education and workforce readiness were also important to those who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“We do have to plan for the future so that we do get the best things for all of those communities, those 16 counties,” Sherry Crye, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Director of Workforce Development, said.
She said another envisioned future, presented as focusing on developing manufacturing, sounded “appealing to me because we need jobs.”
Crye said manufacturing jobs would provide good pay and a better future.
Johnson also said manufacturing was important to him. However, he said he felt this issue needed to be addressed in a national, not just regional level, so there would be more incentive for companies to build in the United State.
Johnson said education and preserving the nation’s protected scenic areas were also important to him for a positive future for the region.
Dustin Toomey of Bradley County brought a unique perspective in that he has lived in three of the counties included in the regional future considerations.
“Any change that happens to the whole region is interesting to me,” Toomey said.
Toomey said ideas for dealing with the projected growth for the region need to be considered to be “proactive about change.”
“We’ve seen a lot of influx in the last decade of manufacturing and jobs. I think people need to be prepared for those jobs,” Toomey said.
He said education and workforce development were two important elements for the future of the region.
A general overview of each possible future was presented. During the presentation, electronic remotes were used to gather input on each of the elements presented.
Some expressed concern that voting positively for an element would be used as permission to carry it out later. They were also concerned about the vagueness of the possible futures.
Neff said the audience was not being asked to pick a future, nor were the possible futures presented concrete plans. Audience members were repeatedly asked to hold their questions until the end.
At the end of the presentation, the audience looked at display boards offering information about each of the elements outlined in the possible futures. Stickers were used to mark the elements they liked. Space was also provided for written comments.
Thrive 2055 is a grassroots, predominately volunteer-run organization. There are only two paid employees.