A shared investment in economic development between Barrow County and its cities and marketing the Center for Innovative Teaching as a community destination center were the top items from the Barrow Summit 2.0, held Sept. 24-25 at the Georgia Club in Statham.
The summit attracted about 70 people to its future planning session. It was the first time Barrow County has held such a gathering in about 15 years, Tommy Jennings, president of the chamber, said.
He said the first summit occurred during fast-growth economic times, and now is a different time.
The chamber wanted to be the “convener” of such a session, he said.
The session was “not only for us to listen to people, but for people to listen to each other,” Jennings said.
The meeting had established topics — and tables — to consider. Economic development, education, environmental issues, healthcare, housing, retail business, technology and transportation were the topics.
In the economic development area, putting more emphasis on the Park 53 development and promoting the use of DDAs were listed.
Assets identified included available utilities, the road network (including planned improvements), local schools and colleges and workforce training.
The new school for Barrow County seeks to focus on “students’ interest” and organize subjects around that, superintendent Chris McMichael said.
The combination of, and proximity of, the new schools, Sims Academy and Lanier Technical College helps the county, participants said.
CFIT plans call for outside attractions such as a splash pad to bring the community together with the school. A capital fundraising effort for that facility will start in the next few months. The Barrow Community Foundation and the Barrow County schools are partners in that.
Housing and transportation got much of the discussion during the day-and-a-half session. Depending upon who was talking, Barrow County has a lot of housing inventory or very little inventory.
A general consensus developed that the county should encourage higher-end houses — larger, more expensive. A considerable part of the discussion revolved around “starter” houses, and the range of costs for those, again, depended on who was talking.
Participants heard presentations from Mike Renshaw, the county manager; Chris McGahee, economic development manager for Duluth; a panel discussion about potential economic and educational issues; economic development and factors in future development.
Other issues that garnered support were green space trails and connectivity, “tiered” housing developments with city and county collaboration, and starting a “10-10-10” plan for Barrow cities.
The “10-10-10” is a concept adopted by McGahee. He said it means 10 places that serve food, 10 retail businesses and 10 businesses that are open after 6 p.m. That concept was considered by the housing and the retail groups. It was third most popular in both groups.
“Tiered” housing encompasses all kinds of development — from single family with youngsters to senior citizen complexes for active retirees and from “starter” houses to large, expensive homes.
More attention should be paid to green spaces in and around cities, participants said. That includes amenities such as walking trails and swimming pools in developments, sidewalks in downtown areas and trails that connect neighborhoods.
McGahee said his Downtown Development Authority took development risks and took that away from developers. Sometimes that involved financing, he said. Sometimes it was infrastructure. Sometimes it was green space or sidewalks. Sometimes it was a combination.
He noted Duluth is “not rich at all” and neither is most of Barrow County. He said the DDA could provide financing for downtown projects.
Mark Kooyman, the CEO for Experience, and facilitator for the summit, told the group the survey done by the planners for the county’s Comprehensive Plan worked with the summit’s ideas.
He noted the more than 1,400 survey responses dealt with the “wants and desires of the community.”
He said relieving traffic congestion, protecting open space and preserving historical items ranked high on that survey.
Kooyman said Barrow County is perceived as the region’s “starter home” location. Wayne Bartlett, real estate agent and broker with Progressive Realty, said that is not the problem. He said he had “tried and failed” at building more expensive and larger houses. He said the county, and its builders, are “way behind the curve on building.” Houses that are needed cost between $240,000 and $250,000, he said.
Renshaw told the group the county is facing a severe shortage of paramedics in healthcare.
That might lead to education, where the Barrow County schools are introducing “academies” at its new high school, Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy. One of those academies will be “life sciences,” which will include healthcare.
Tracy Vardeman, strategist for Northeast Georgia Health System, which owns hospitals in Braselton and Winder, said the company has property on Highway 316. She said the healthcare field in Barrow is growing faster than the county and that creates opportunities and problems.
Ray Perren, president of Lanier Technical College, said the school has a nursing program. He added that workforce development always has been the reason for the college’s existence and predicted that always will be the case.
He termed the school a “specialized college.”