Vision 2025 meeting held at county health dept.

By Greg Miller
STAR STAFF

   The Tri-Cities Tennessee-Virginia Regional Partnership, in conjunction with the Chamber Coalition, Education 2020, and the Number One Committee, on Thursday held a Vision 2025 meeting at the Carter County Health Department.
   The meeting was a success, according to Kathy Pierce, Director of Planning and Program Administrator for Alliance for AB&T, and Herb Roberts, superintendent of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area. People, places, play, jobs and government were among the topics of discussion.
   "The session was very successful," said Pierce. "It was encouraging to see so many Carter County residents take the time to come out on a rainy evening to participate in an opportunity to think ahead to envision the type of community we want to live in. Those who attended were actively engaged in a lively discussion about what we want our region to be with regards to government, jobs, recreation, quality of life, etc."
   The meeting "was run very efficiently," said Roberts. "I think they gathered some really good ideas. We kind of went over an overview of Vision 2025, where it came from, the purpose of it. Then we broke up into groups."
   Roberts' group discussed "play and places." The group discussed types of and opportunities for recreation. "Do we want to see the natural environment, for instance, remain preserved or remain intact, or are we looking for more development? We have to balance those kinds of things. It was looking for ideas about the type of play that we would like to see in 2025 and the types of places, whether we're going to talk about preserving places or developing places.
   "We came up with several good ideas, probably about 15 to 20 ideas in each one of those areas. Each group -- jobs, government, etc. -- all did the same thing, came up with a lot of regional-type thinking."
   The top three ideas from each category in each of about 30 Vision 2025 sessions will be compared. Eventually, the focus will settle on those ideas that can be promoted either at local or state levels.
   "The Vision 2025 initiative builds on the increasing number of truly regional efforts which have occurred over the past few years," Pierce said. "Including all communities, both small and large, urban and rural, in the development of programs and systems which impact us all helps ensure that current and future residents, particularly our children, have opportunities to improve their skills and work here at home. It is important that all communities be considered in decisions which impact education, employment, transportation, energy resources, etc.
   "These meetings also help create an understanding of the common bonds we all share in the Tri-Cities Tennessee and Virginia area. More than 50 communities are participating in these sessions in a geographic region which has more than 750,000 residents. Just think about the potential for positive change that can result from these sessions!"
   Roberts, who estimated that about 35-40 people attended Thursday's meeting, said the Vision 2025 sessions can help people to be "proactive instead of reactive. They would look to the future, assessing what we have now, and look down the road so they might have an opportunity to plan the growth of the region, or plan the growth of a community, based on what other folks think in the region."
   One of the two most important results from Thursday's session was that "Carter County citizens were able to make a contribution to the future of their own community and to the larger region," Pierce said. Another important reason was that "Those who attended gained a greater understanding of the regional activities that are currently underway and the role that Carter County plays in those efforts."
   The greatest result from the meeting in Roberts' view was "everybody there realizing that it benefits us all to cooperate regionally, rather than focus on one area. If people have one particular interest, that's good, and they're passionate about that and they need to be. They need to voice that.
   "But people also need to be aware that other people have ideas, and their ideas meshed with your ideas can create a lot greater whole than an individual's. It's like one community coming up with a great idea. It may not be a great idea the way it impacts other people in another community, for instance.
   "Everything is not going to be regional, but certainly it gives you the opportunity to look at the region and see if there are areas that we would be better served having a regional concept, as opposed to having an individual small thing in each community, have one large thing centrally located.
   "I believe these types of sessions are critical to achieving regional goals," Pierce said. "It engages people from all walks of life and interests in the process. As the saying goes, 'Two heads are better than one.' Just think of the benefits when you get many more people involved. Who knows where the next great idea can come from!"
   "Obviously, this is the first step," Roberts said. "To get people to start thinking regionally and thinking long-term, I think will have many benefits down the road."
   This type of meeting will enhance the state's tourism industry, Roberts believes. "Tourism, right now is the number two industry in Tennessee," he said. "Several years ago, agriculture was number one. Agriculture is way down the list now. Manufacturing is number one. In my opinion, it's not going to be long before tourism may be our number one industry in Tennessee."
   Noting that Carter County has many tourist attractions, Roberts said that all the counties in the Coalition have things that draw tourists. With all counties participating in the effort, people and jobs can be drawn to the entire area.
   "Hopefully that would be a planned type of progress where you don't rip the environment or rip your cultural heritage in trying to attract jobs or attract people," Roberts said. "These are going to be certainly a lot of service industry type jobs, but it will also create an atmosphere, I think, to bring in a lot of high-tech type positions as well.
   "The age of trying to attract a large manufacturing firm may be gone. We may be looking in our particular area at attracting some high-tech jobs that employ in the 200 to 300 range, something of that nature, rather than trying to employ 1,200-1,500 people."
   According to the Web site, www.allamericatri.com, "The purpose of the Regional Vision 2025 project is to strengthen and unite our communities and our region through the creation of a shared vision for our future."
   Sixty communities in 14 counties and two states are working together on regional initiatives in education, health improvement, public safety, cultural heritage and tourism, environmental quality, economic and workforce development.
   Vision 2025 meetings are being held throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.