Few can argue the positive impact of such growth on our hometown over the last few years.
Admittedly, it is coming with certain growing pains — traffic congestion and ongoing road construction projects being just two. This is the case in many mid-size cities whose benefits have caught the eye of new business interests from near and far.
But most economists agree: Growth is better than no growth.
And municipal administrators who understand the connection are among the first to realize, “When a town stops growing, it starts dying.”
Those who crave a simpler life will debate the claim, but a look around the state at small towns that can’t recruit new business is the proof. Not only have they stopped growing, they have literally begun to shrink.
Residents move to other cities in pursuit of better jobs and greater opportunity.
Small- to mid-sized businesses close because local residents are moving which further reduces their patron numbers and sales volume.
Larger businesses relocate due to a declining workforce and because fewer small businesses need their services or support.
Aging schools close — instead of being modernized or rebuilt — and then consolidate with neighboring institutions in order to get more students under the same roof for cost efficiency.
Professional services leave the area — like doctors and lawyers — because of limited clientele.
Nonprofit organizations close shop because of few volunteers, limited funding and a declining number of recipient families.
Government grants dry up because of a lessening population of voters.
In truth, Small Town America remains a charming slice of the American pie. But with no city growth, the aging population will age even further, and the remaining young people will continue moving away in pursuit of opportunity.
And that means more shops will close and longtime businesses will fade.
Can it be reversed?
A recent presentation by Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, would indicate that it can. Speaking before an inaugural audience of the Chamber’s new “Food for Thought” initiative, Berry suggested — regardless of a town’s size — it’s still all about recruitment.
But it’s not all tied to what just one town can do. In today’s economy, it is becoming as much regional in concept.
Berry freely admitted local government jurisdictions need each other to successfully recruit incoming companies. Cleveland is no exception. Nor is Athens, Decatur or Ooltewah. Chattanooga needs them all and all need Chattanooga. Throw Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama into the mix as well.
Here’s his thinking.
“When I am dealing with projects in Cleveland and Bradley County, I am selling Chattanooga and locating [the businesses] in Bradley County,” he said.
Other cities likely are doing the same.
One example might include: Company A wants to locate in a bigger city like Chattanooga, but it wants progressive mid-size towns like Cleveland for its employees to call home. Or, Company B wants to locate in Cleveland, but having the amenities of a bigger city like Chattanooga so close is a huge selling point for Cleveland to land the business.
It is strategic, but it is not rocket science.
It is known as selling a region, and not just a town.
Local governments and Chambers are still competitors for the same incoming businesses, but they piggyback upon one another as assets for the entire region.
Such strategies came into play with the recruitment of the giant Volkswagen plant in eastern Hamilton County and the Amazon Distribution Centers in both Hamilton and Bradley counties. Likely, future companies will be attracted on the same strengths.
Bradley County’s economic development positioning will regain momentum with the availability of the new Spring Branch Industrial Park. And when that happens, companies are expected to come calling. Some already are.
And what will be some of the key selling points? Cleveland. Chattanooga. Interstate 75. Competitive tax rates. Education. Quality of life. Community growth. And hopefully, an available, well-trained workforce.
To grow, a community must be able to show growth.
To sustain growth a community must keeping growing, but it should always be done wisely with a vision sharply focused on practicality and affordability.