Strategic plan for city of LaFayette

City Manager David Hamilton updates residents on the city's strategic plan for the future. (Messenger photo/Josh O'Bryant)

LaFayette leaders and residents are looking to a future where apathy is left behind and pride takes the lead.

The city offered an update on its strategic plan for the future on Monday, Sept. 25.

"A lot of what we're talking about could take generations to change or to implement," City Manager David Hamilton told a crowd at city hall.

"Hamilton said the city has a lot going for it, with a lot of assets, but there is also a lot going on in the city that hasn't been directed.

"There hasn't been a lot of planning for direction in terms of the type of development that has happened in LaFayette and where, for instance, industrial development has happened," the city manager said. "There's been a lot of reactionary type decisions that has been made."

Hamilton said most actions the plan cannot happen until other actions happen as well.

"Obviously we've got to have businesses. The businesses have got to be successful. We have got to have employment. We have to have good education, leadership and development and retention. We have got to have good housing and we have to have a high quality of life," Hamilton said.

Education is key

Hamilton said the most important concern is education, followed by improving incomes and property values.

Hamilton said the median household income in LaFayette, as of 2013, was about $31,000.

"The good news is that it is up a good bit from 2000, but still leaves a lot to be desired," he said.

The median income in the state is about $47,800, he said.

Hamilton said the cost of living is low in the city, with a cost index at about 88 percent of the United States average.

"What do we want to be?" Hamilton asked. "We want to be the most flourishing community in the greater Chattanooga area linking strong neighborhoods and the entrepreneurial spirit together."

To do so, Hamilton said, the infrastructure for water, sewer, natural gas, and electric services must be in good shape. However, the infrastructure is now aging and lacking in capacity.

Hamilton said the unemployment rate is low, but industry leaders say the area lacks in terms of a skilled labor force.

Local apathy

Hamilton said people decide where they want to live by choosing where they can make money, be happy and have recreational opportunities.

"Investment capital is the same way," he said. "Businesses put their money where they get return on their investment."

Hamilton said one thing to consider is that the city has a lot of apathy.

"There's just a lot of people that have either given up, or feel like they can't drive change, or be a part of change, or LaFayette is never going to change. But the gist of it is, the city can't rest on its laurels if we are going to continue to exist and thrive. We've got to do stuff like this. We have got to have plans. We have got to have discussion and talk about where do we need to change, what do we need to do to grow," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the city has a lot in its favor, but there are weaknesses such as the minimum industry workforce residency.

"There are a lot of people that work here locally that don't live here, because we don't have the housing that they need," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said 90 percent of the city's SPLOST revenue went to transportation as far as paving roads and sidewalks, with most going towards paving roads.

There are 300 miles of water mains in the city, with an average age of about 70 years old.

"EPA expects these water lines to lasts about 100 years, so what we are looking at is 300 miles of water lines — give or take — that have got to be replaced in the next 30 years," Hamilton said.

The city has a lot of work left in making the area walk-able and bike-able as far as transportation, he said.

Natural beauty and resources

Hamilton said the city has natural and cultural resources available with plenty of opportunity like nearby Crockford-Pigeon Mountain and Cloudland Canyon.

"We have some beautiful country all around us...There is a lot of natural beauty and resources around us that we need to find a better way to tie to and realize that that's essentially LaFayette. That is a part of us. We need to be the gateway to these beautiful recreational areas," he said.

Losing youth and lack of pride

"We lose a lot of kids. We have a lot of students that come through LaFayette High School and move away, get educated and go build a career and they never come back," Hamilton said. "These are the future leaders of the community and we're not getting a lot of them back."

Hamilton said this is where the city needs to keep high school and middle school students engaged in the community and wanting to return to help the city.

"A lot of people in LaFayette — or from LaFayette — aren't proud of living in LaFayette. They're not proud to be from LaFayette. ... People don't feel like they have anything to be proud of. There's not been an identity for a long time, or at least for a lot of people," he said.

One goal, Hamilton said, is to get a satellite campus in the city.

"Having this local opportunity would be good for a lot of reasons. It will also give us exposure that we are not getting," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the city must not only have a clean and prosperous city to attract new business, but it must also take care of its existing businesses.

"The existing business that we have is what has made the community what it is. There are a lot of people that invest into the community that are leaders in the community and help drive us forward. We've got to make sure that we pay attention to taking care of them and helping stay friendly to retain existing businesses," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the city must also encourage small businesses and local entrepreneurship.

Josh O'Bryant is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He can be reached at the Walker County Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at jobryant@npco.com.