Southeast Tennessee Region’s Resources and Tools



logo.thrive2055THRIVE 2055 is a volunteer-driven, public-private initiative focused on proactively engaging people from across the 16-County Tri-State region of Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia, and Northeast Alabama. This region is connected by landscape, watersheds, and common experiences. This initiative is an opportunity for local businesses, non-profits, government representatives, and citizens from this region to come together to examine their mutual successes and challenges and plan a course of action for a brighter tomorrow. THRIVE 2055 is a 3-year process that will be completed in late 2015. Four initiatives were identified based on public input and research. These initiatives are the priorities and principles important to the region. The following resources and tools are drawn from the THRIVE 2055 initiative:


Regional Economic Development Initiative

Businesspeople ApplaudingThe THRIVE 2055 process revealed a strong regional interest in improved collaboration for major employer attraction, as well as a stronger, coordinated effort to grow local businesses to provide increased job opportunities for all within the region. Underlying these themes is the growing recognition that the THRIVE 2055 region – spanning urban, suburban, and rural areas across three states – is an inter-dependent economy with numerous opportunities and challenges. The THRIVE 2055 economic development self-assessment reinforced these findings, recognizing the fragmented approach to economic development in the region; the lack of available large, shovel-ready industrial sites; a need to improve the entrepreneurial landscape throughout the area; and a need to continue to strengthen regional competitiveness. Two other key factors – improved regional transportation infrastructure and improved workforce readiness – were also identified; these factors will be addressed directly by two related THRIVE 2055 working groups.

The Regional Economic Development Initiative project focuses on creating a regional partnership that will lead development of a coordinated regional economic development blueprint consisting of a series of collaborative measures across the region. Key to this effort will be much-improved communications with local elected officials to deepen their understanding of the inter-dependence of the region.


Regional Transportation Initiative

The THRIVE 2055 region includes three independent Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO’s) as well as four Regional Planning Organizations (RPO’s). Each organization develops transportation strategies specific to their geography. Federal law requires that MPO’s identify current and future transportation needs and provide multi-modal transportation strategies to address these needs. The resulting transportation plans include a long-range transportation vision and the projects necessary over the next 20 to 30 years to attain that vision. Most importantly, federal funding for an MPO area cannot be allocated to transportation projects unless they are included on the MPO’s Long Range Transportation Plan project list. The projects on this list must be fiscally constrained, meaning that the MPO cannot plan to spend more money than it expects to receive. Independently, these MPO plans offer a robust method of identifying needs and methods to implement their respective transportation vision; however, despite their geographic proximity these plans are largely developed independently and don’t reflect a coordinated vision for the entire THRIVE 2055 planning area. Furthermore, the combination of the three MPO plans doesn’t offer comprehensive coverage of the THRIVE 2055 planning area and excludes vision projects that exceed predicted funding levels.

This project will focus on establishing a coordinated transportation vision for the entire THRIVE 2055 planning area with specific emphasis on:

    • Establishing a unified transportation vision that considers the diversity of context areas present in the region;
    • Identifying regional transportation infrastructure (existing and proposed) that is consistent with the unified vision;
    • Improving multimodal and intermodal opportunities;
    • Integrating with the region’s other identified priorities and initiatives;
    • Coordinating methods to promote and maintain the implementation of the unified vision;
    • Identifying opportunities for enhanced collaboration between planning agencies responsible for the development of local, sub-regional, and regional transportation strategies.


Education and Training Initiatve

education_girls_bus_webEarlier THRIVE 2055 work revealed that like in many other areas of the country, the education system in our 16-county region is in crisis. While investments to improve education and training have certainly drawn attention to our region for our efforts, we are simply (or still) not doing well enough at any level of the education continuum to prepare critical masses for the kinds of employment opportunities that are likely to be available. The causes of the crisis are complex, involving a general under valuing of education in our region, underlying social problems, confusing education and training pathways, affordability, fragmentation of effort, and others.

This project will focus on how to best address the full range of education and training needs of the region from cradle to career at a regional level, including:

      • Pre-K readiness approaches to prepare children to learn when they enter school
      • Third grade reading approaches to ensure children are reading at an age appropriate level in the third grade
      • Pathways to Progress approaches to assist high school students to understand and choose successful career paths, from a four-year college track, a two-year college track, a vocational certificate program, or other training or apprenticeship options
      • Adult retraining approaches to assist adults in transition from one career to another


National Treasures Initiative

natural_treasures_dekalb_webThe THRIVE 2055 region comprises beautiful scenic vistas, fertile valleys, a diverse array of animal and plant life, majestic mountains and forests, and a historical and cultural richness that are sources of celebration, identity, and wonder. The prosperity of future generations is dependent on our ability to conserve, protect and enhance the region’s natural heritage.

The National Treasures Initiative focuses on creating a regional blueprint for coordinating actions, investments, and policies to protect, preserve, enhance and provide access to the region’s natural treasures and open spaces.


THRIVE 2055 Regional Reports

Phase one of the THRIVE 2055 process focused on exploring local values and identifying significant internal and external forces and trends shaping the region. This effort started with the project initiation to identify the organizational structure of the effort and progressed into the research and analysis phase in the late fall early winter of 2012. This phase was completed in the fall of 2013. The following milestones are associated with the Research and Analysis Phase:


THRIVE 2055 Regional Vision Handbook

thrive_handbookDuring 2012 THRIVE 2055 listened to the wants and needs of communities, small and large, rural and urban, young and old. The feedback collected created THRIVE 2055’s Priorities and Initiatives and the Regional Vision: Educated People with Good Jobs Living in a Great Place. This Regional Vision guides the THRIVE 2055 process.





Trends and Forces

thrive_trendsForcesThis report provides an overview of demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic characteristics and trends for the THRIVE 2055 Region and highlights key issues, opportunities, and constraints to be considered during the planning process. It is intended to help inform and serve as a foundation for discussion among regional stakeholders and the community-at-large as part of the THRIVE 2055 process. This report provides a concise snapshot of where the region is today that will help to track THRIVE 2055’s progress towards implementation of the Regional Vision.





Regional Drivers

The regional drivers were identified based on input from the Coordinating Committee, Working Groups, and the research of forces and trends. Regional drivers are the topics with forces and trends that are strongly shaping our region’s future. They are the topics that influence our region’s prosperity, people, paths(infrastructure) and places. The following is the current organization of the regional drivers and related assessment reports:

paths logo

people logo

places logo

prosperity logo








Education & Workforce Preparedness Assessment Report

assess_report_prosperityEducation and workforce preparedness is a critical building block for the economic wellbeing for individuals, communities, and the region. A full high-quality continuum of education is needed ranging from birth to adult education and training, including each stage in between. The challenge that the region faces is educational attainment has lagged behind the nation as a whole, creating a divide between the workforce preparedness of the population and the needs of an ever-changing economy. For example, the percent of the adult population with a high school diploma (or equivalent) and the post-secondary education rates are both lower than the national average. There are hundreds of high paying jobs in the region going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, while other graduates of four year institutions are still working in low skilled, underpaid positions. The challenges of education and workforce preparedness start early. When employers communicate that workers are not coming out of school ready for today’s job market, the problem can usually be traced back to early childhood education issues. The first stage of birth to third grade is especially critical: educators know that if a child is not reading at a certain level by third grade, they are likely to be in constant catch-up mode through their education process. Likewise, if a child has not been exposed to reading before pre-school, third grade literacy is hard to achieve. As education and workforce preparedness challenges are considered, the younger the issue is addressed the better.

Click on the report cover for a summary of the assessment that describes the nature and seriousness of the challenge. The summary is followed by a more detailed discussion of the hurdles faced along the education continuum, as well as ideas about the role that THRIVE 2055 can play in this process.


Economic Competitiveness Assessment Report

assess_report_econCompThis region has experienced varying levels of success in its economic development efforts in the many communities that make up the region. Cities such as Chattanooga and Cleveland have been successful in recruiting large employers, but the economic downturn in 2009 created widespread loss of employment in the Northwest Georgia flooring industry and already scant employment in more rural areas has remained largely stagnant. There are many economic development initiatives and efforts underway throughout the region but they are fragmented and uncoordinated. As the economy of the region continues to evolve as a competitor in a national and global market, various economic development efforts need to be better coordinated. Perhaps even more importantly, the concern for economic development is not limited to how prosperity can be grown by growing jobs, it is whether education and workforce preparedness efforts can meet the needs of the labor market, whether the region can attract new human and financial capital, whether the region can provide infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner, whether the region can create innovative new incentives to compete on recruitment projects and whether the region can retain a competitive regulatory and tax climate for business and industry.

If we are not educating and training people for today’s and tomorrow’s job market, providing needed infrastructure to support business, and providing a business-friendly environment, no amount of regional coordination will allow us to sustain a healthy economy and its resulting prosperity for citizens.


Transportation and Freight Mobility Assessment Report

assess_report_transpThe region has a significant amount of freight and transportation movement through and within the region. As population and employment grow, and transportation infrastructure continues to age, the demands on transportation networks will increase. Without a strong and diverse transportation network, congestion and transportation delays will likely worsen. One of the greatest challenges facing the region is the lack of connection between the cost to maintain and expand the system and available funding.

While many of the local and sub-regional organizations have prepared plans for the region’s transportation systems, and incremental improvements are being made, as a region there is no coordinated and funded transportation strategy in place. While elements of the transportation systems have been evaluated with a lower grade, the overall function of the system and practices is not terribly underperforming. Going forward, strategies for and importance of these elements will likely vary from urban centers to outer rural communities.



Sanitary Sewer and Water Assessment Report

assess_report_SewerWaterSanitary sewer and potable water infrastructure are part of the critical framework for the built environment. Services and systems are maintained by a large number of local utility companies and service areas are not clearly defined or understood at a regional level. Many existing systems are exceeding their functional lifespan making inflow and infiltration, capacity issues, and system failures possible. At the same time, the region is growing and demanding more services; grant funding for infrastructure is declining placing increasing financial burden on the region’s communities.

Some of the local utilities are doing a great job and have a high level of achievement in planning, building, maintaining, and meeting federal standards, however, the regional approach is still mostly fragmented and all of the region’s communities are facing financing challenges at some level — a situation anticipated to increase as the region grows and regulations change.



Power Assessment Report

assess_report_powerAccess and utilization of affordable and reliable communications technology is an important element influencing the region’s attractiveness and success as it is essential to the conduct of modern business and access to information for educational efforts. The infrastructure and services in this region are provided by numerous entities operating under different sets of regulations. Key issues related to the provision of affordable and reliable communication services include ever-changing technologies, the location of infrastructure, and funding for capital improvements. Outside forces impacting communication services include government regulations or deregulations and the end user’s capacity to access the services available.

This focus group finds that communication technology and service providers in the region are performing admirably and have a firm grasp of the issues. Current efforts are making great strides in addressing the coverage and connectivity of the region in a relatively holistic manner. While there are some discrepancies in service and landline infrastructure between the urban and rural areas, phone, satellite, and wireless technologies are available throughout the region.


Built Environment Assessment Report

assess_report_built_envirHow and where the region grows will have an impact on the cost to provide infrastructure and services, quality of life, the character of places and the natural environment. The region’s manmade or built environment runs the spectrum of development forms from urban central business districts, to urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods, to small town main streets and established rural villages. Accessibility to land, proximity to major employers, availability of services, market conditions, personal preferences, and local regulations largely affect where new construction occurs. A good understanding of these growth drivers and the fiscal, environmental and economic consequences of development choices can better prepare local communities to reap the benefits of growth without compromising community assets. The region also values private property rights, which must be considered when exploring approaches/tools to managing growth.

Significant developments like VW or Wacker have a gravitational pull attracting residential growth and development. Currently, the region does not have a decision-making process in place that considers these impacts and the cost of developing new infrastructure and communities. In most cases, regulations and development process are arbitrary and usually varied or changed to fit circumstances of development, and not truly based on what individual communities envision as great places. Because of the diversity in urban, suburban rural, and town communities across the region, the costs, benefits, and challenges of development are experienced in different ways. Urban and suburban communities have grown more quickly than rural communities have and, therefore, existing regulations are at levels appropriate to experiences. The current way zoning and subdivision regulations work is based on a measure that was selected at some point in time and they are difficult to keep up today and respond quickly to market conditions.


Health and Healthcare Assessment Report

assess_report_healthCombined, the 16 counties in our region have some disease mortality rates and high risk health behaviors that indicate that our population may not be as healthy as they could be. Poor health has many implications—from diminished quality of life for individuals to increased health care costs. Significant concerns on this topic include access to health care, access to healthy choices, and the changing needs of an aging population.

Modern health care is in a state of transition. Locally, regionally, and nationally, public and private health care providers (as well as a vast, yet loosely coordinated set of health and wellness advocates), are challenging existing systems and seeking more effective and economical ways to improve community health and access to care. Prevention and treatment efforts span the waterfront, from nutrition to direct care. The ability of these providers and advocates to serve the region will be influenced by need, commercial viability, successful communication, and collaborative strategy.

A growing emphasis on prevention and awareness will shape future demand. Our ability to address current health needs will continue to drive availability, access and the commercial aspects of health care delivery. Medicare, Medicaid, and third party payers will continue to play a significant role in driving current and future systems. The undetermined impact of the Affordable Care Act will likewise change the manner in which health care is paid for, and the resulting changes in financing will drive delivery at all points along the health care spectrum. The health care system must accommodate differing needs and the unique circumstances of our region’s at-risk populations, while assuring access to all who need assistance. Technology and health care delivery mechanisms will continue to evolve as providers and consumers seek ways to maximize the value of their health care expenditures. Ultimately, the economic forces driving health care and prevention will shape future programming and play a determinant role in the growth and evolution of our system. The ability of our region to work collaboratively will play a critical role in improving efficiency and outcomes for all residents. Furthermore, the development of a regional framework through which we can effectively evaluate our current and future efforts is critical.

Acknowledging that the THRIVE 2055 effort will have only a modest impact on the overall health and welfare of the region, it will be important that the process advocate for a climate in which all players commit to forging an effective care system and for the tools and approaches that will strengthen our regional response capabilities.


Arts and Culture Assessment Report

assess_report_artsA vibrant region is one that is celebrated locally, regionally, and nationally for the ways in which creativity, arts, and culture enrich and enhance its way of life. Regional vibrancy as it pertains to “arts and culture” encompasses the region’s customs, beliefs, and traditions. This includes the fine arts, but also such creative expressions as traditional, ethnic, and folk art, music, and crafts; the history and heritage of the region; landmarks, parks, and natural attractions; and the built environment. Regional vibrancy plays an important role in the economic competitiveness of our region and in the quality of life of our citizens.

A strong arts and cultural foundation already exists in many parts of the THRIVE 2055 region today. In terms of momentum, this foundation is perhaps strongest in and immediately surrounding Chattanooga, where a wide variety of arts and cultural organizations, programs, and educational opportunities exist and community-wide discussions regarding the role of arts and culture in the region’s economy, education, diversity, quality of life, and overall vibrancy have been underway for some time as part of the Imagine Chattanooga 20201 process and similar discussions held by Dalton’s Archway Community Partnership. Numerous arts and cultural assets exist in the broader THRIVE 2055 region, however, awareness of, and access to these assets is less among visitors and our own residents. A collaborative approach to documenting, marketing, and protecting our arts and cultural assets should be explored as part of the THRIVE 2055 process to identify ways in which we can most effectively leverage these assets and promote all that the region collectively has to offer.