"We need to focus on economic development," County Chairman Kathy Morgan said. "Where are we now? Where do we want to be in 2020? In 2050?"
As Atlanta's population continues to grow, Newton County will continue to grow, and leaders say the county can either develop into a bedroom county dependent on Atlanta - a mainly residential area with few non-retail, non-office building industries - or it can develop into a self-sufficient county with concentrated residential areas, industrial areas and "green" areas.
The 130-page document uses current trend data to predict that the county's population will be 400,000 by 2050 and then provides strategies for how to focus and use this growth to reduce residential sprawl, create industrial growth and maintain "green" land for use in agriculture and tourism.
The strategy presents the importance of the development crossroad this way:
If the population growth is not planned out -
• 400,000 residents will be spread out in subdivisions
• More roads and strip commercial centers will be built
• 70 percent of the population will continue to commute and spend money outside the county
• Only 10 percent of the land will remain green.
If growth is planned -
• 75 percent of the 400,000 residents will be tucked into compact communities with walkable town centers
• 100,000 jobs will be in the county, 75 percent of which will be held by county residents
• 50 percent of the land will remain green
John Boothby, president of the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said the strategy is important to show economic development officials at the state level that Newton County is serious about economic development. Those state officials are often the first people businesses talk to when looking for new locations. The strategy is also important to have in place at this time because it will allow Newton County to be ready for the economic recovery, while counties that haven't invested play catch up, Boothby said.
The $90,000 strategy was prepared for the collaborative by The Center with outside consulting from Bleakly Advisory Group, H. Randall Roark, Perry Rose, LLC and PBS&J. Leadership Collaborative officials are seeking the public's feedback and residents who want to read and comment on the strategy should contact Hosanna Fletcher at The Center. The Center's phone number is (770) 788-0484.