Community members were given the chance to provide their input on the community during a “CONNECT Our Future” open house Thursday. This open house, the second of a series of 30 throughout the region, introduced guests to CONNECT and provided both paper and digital forms for them to express their thoughts on community needs and values.
According to its website, CONNECT “is a process through which communities, counties, businesses, educators, non-profits and other organizations work together to grow jobs and the economy, improve quality of life and control the cost of government. This process will create a regional growth framework developed through extensive community engagement and built on what communities identify as existing conditions, future plans and needs, and potential strategies.”
Rebecca Yarbrough, a CONNECT project senior advisor, said that this is an extensive project, encompassing 14 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina over a period of three years. Currently in phase one, CONNECT is holding a series of 30 open houses across the region which should end in February 2013.
“All of our public engagement activities at whatever phase are going to be conducted where they’ll be accessible to people all over the 14 counties,” Yarbrough said. “For at least two of the phases we’re going to be going out: for this one we’re going out 30 times, for the second phase we’ll probably go out 15 different times. For future phases, we don’t have all of that exactly narrowed down yet, but it will definitely be accessible to everybody. Any resident of the region who wants to come and have input will have access to that.”
Community members who attended the open house said that they found it “interesting and informative,” according to Yarbrough. “This is really the first stage of getting information out to people about what we’re trying to do, and the most important part of it is when they tell us what really matters to them about the community and the region as we grow, and what concerns they have, as they look to the future,” Yarbrough said.
Jim Prosser, the executive director of Centralina Council of Governments, said that the community input is crucial to the CONNECT planning. “As an example, one of the things we heard about is housing in other regions, better understanding of where businesses and institutions are adding jobs or where they have jobs now,” Prosser said. “What are their housing needs for the people who work there or will work there? How do you meet their housing needs and get them closer to where they work, which helps your transportation issue? One example that I provide is hospitals are typically big employers, colleges and universities are big employers, and a lot of times talking to them about what their needs are now for their employees and better understanding of how to build housing that meets those needs goes a long, long way with those issues we talked about.”
This will be an extensive, ongoing project, according to Prosser. “When all the cities and counties give us their plans on how they plan to grow right now, the first thing we’re going to do is build a plan for the entire region built upon what they’re telling us, and then we get the planners from the different communities and we ask them, ‘Now that you see this, what are some opportunities, some problems that you see?’” he said. “And then we begin to problem-solve.”
While all community members are encouraged to participate, Prosser and Yarbrough stressed the importance of hearing from the future of the communities: the young people. They hope to hear from students in various groups including youth council, 4-H clubs, Boys and Girls clubs and more, including colleges and universities, according to Yarbrough. “You’re the people who are going to be the leadership in 2040 or 2045… you need to really provide input about what you want your region to be like,” Yarbrough said.
Community members in the 14-county region are encouraged to attend one of the various open houses to learn more about CONNECT and to provide their input on their community needs and visions. While input can be given at any of the open houses, CONNECT welcomes opinions via its website, as well. To see a map of the CONNECT region, learn more or provide input, visit www.connectourfuture.org, call 704-372-2416 or email project manager Sushil Nepal at email@example.com.