Economic strategy revealed

COVINGTON - A new economic development strategy for Newton County was recently revealed by officials with the Leadership Collaborative.

The strategy projects out to 2050, when the county's population is expected to reach 400,000.

The main goals of the plan are to expand the business and technology sector by retaining and expanding existing businesses and by marketing and developing Stanton Springs and Covington Municipal Airport and surrounding area; to increase retail and downtown development; and to enhance the overall quality of life by preserving and promoting small town environments and rural, environmental and agricultural areas and expanding and improving educational opportunities.

Elements of the 2050 build-out plan include:

· Creating communities by concentrating higher density developments using existing infrastructure and services to create multi-use walkable communities;

· Creating corridors by concentrating growth along routes that preserve scenic and historic resources and promoting quality development at appropriate densities;

· Protecting clean water by protecting water resources and river corridors, supporting agriculture and allowing for very low-density development; and

· Coordinating planning and funding of infrastructure, schools and other public investments.

The plan also calls for preserving 50 percent of the county for green land uses; fostering a recreation and walking environment; encouraging local food production; setting aside land for industrial and office growth; encouraging high-quality development and creating a diverse job base.

The strategy also recommends creation of a new committee called the Newton County Economic Development Council to oversee implementation.

The cost to implement the strategy is estimated at $250,000 to $300,000 per year for three years, to cover additional staffing, planning and consultant work, not including any capital improvements that might be recommended.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said the strategies laid out in the document "embody steps to improve our quality of life while providing for the necessary revenue to provide the high level of services that our residents desire. We are protecting our quality of life while increasing job creation and revenues."

The strategy was initiated in 2007 when local leaders identified economic development as one of the most important issues facing the county.

The $90,000 strategy was funded by Newton County and the city of Covington at $30,000 each, and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and Industrial Development Authority at $15,000 each.

It represents a partnership between all members of the Leadership Collaborative, which also includes officials from municipalities and the Newton County School System.

"Our ability to deliver water and treat sewage is directly related to how the county grows," said WASA Executive Director Mike Hopkins. "We gladly participated in this comprehensive strategy development because it will ultimately be the most economical method of planning for and implementing future growth."

In addition to hiring a consultant and commercial development specialist, stakeholders from the retail, development and industry sectors were consulted on the plan.

"When this team came together, we actually had more common goals than we had separate," said Covington Mayor Kim Carter.

That's a positive thing to see for representatives of companies who may be considering locating to Newton, said Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby, who noted they look for cooperation between governments and other agencies.

Officials have emphasized that the strategy as it currently stands is still a draft document that can be amended and updated at any time.

"It's something that will be ever-evolving," Morgan said.

The next step will be for the city and county to adopt the plan, which will act as a guide for leaders in the coming years.

The public is invited to view the plan and give input. For more information, call Hosanna Fletcher at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning at 770-788-0484.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.