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E. Hamilton resident leading planning

Under the direction of Collegedale Planning Commissioner and resident Bridgett Massengil, a group of leaders across 16 counties is in the process of creating a regional plan to address some of the area’s biggest issues as it moves further into the 21st century.

Called Thrive 2055, the three-year planning initiative will result in a blueprint that includes strategies on improving everything from air quality to public education in Tennessee, North Georgia and North Alabama. For the next several months, project leaders are looking for people’s input on what they would like to see in the area’s future.

The four main areas of concentration include the region’s people, prosperity level, infrastructure and physical space.

With Eastern Hamilton County situated at the center of this growing and changing region, the voice of those in East Hamilton County is increasingly important since its residents may be affected more than others by the coming changes to the region.

As two new schools are in the process of being built, many transportation updates to the area are en route and residential growth continues to increase, it is particularly important for the people who will experience these changes to express how they would like the region to move forward, said Massengil.

With more than 1 million people in the region, it is impossible to have conversations with people or areas individually, but it is important to get as much of a cross-section as possible. With the initiative’s “Meeting in a Box” template, anyone interested in hosting a meeting can get materials online, host a meeting and then submit the meeting’s highlights through the same interface at www.thrive2055.com.

“We provide the meeting template, you provide the people and thoughts and send us the highlights of your discussions,” Massengill explained.

The first year of the planning process is dedicated solely to research through a variety of platforms. Over the course of the next six months, Massengil said she hopes to hear from as many people as possible in the region.

The group hopes to conclude the initial Meeting in a Box program by the end of February, she said. After that data has been collected and analyzed, the Thrive 2055 team will facilitate “input incubators” in three locations across the region. Those incubators will include interactive maps and other ways for the public to dialogue with the planning team.

“A second Meeting in a Box will come from this input incubator and then we will host a second input incubator,” said Massengil.

Once the research phase of the plan is complete, the second year of the planning process will be dedicated to establishing a regional vision crafted from the team’s research and setting benchmarks to evaluate success, she said.

The third year will be dedicated to the creation of action strategies and tools along with transitioning from the planning process to active implementation.

“This is not a political process or policy-making board,” Massengil said. “This is just a group of leaders coming together to talk about where we want to go. We want a regional vision with an action plan on how to get there.”

Some of the main reasons for beginning Thrive 2055 include the fact that since 2008 this area has seen $4 billion in new business investments as well as the creation of the nation’s largest 100 percent fiber optic Internet network, despite an ongoing economic recession across the country. Even with these positive improvements, the economic climate has exacerbated the area’s existing challenges, which include gaps between workforce skills and the demands of new industries, high rural unemployment figures and broadband desserts across the area, said Massengil.

“There are many issues that simply don’t care what silo our community is living in,” she said. “There is no vision that’s currently in place to address these challenges. Our mission is to proactively engage the people of this entire region in creating an action plan that will make the most of our economic opportunities while preserving what we love about our home communities.”

For more information visit www.thrive2055.com or www.facebook.com/thrive2055.

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