LaFayette officials are taking a serious look at the city's future.

City Manager David Hamilton, addressing a large crowd Monday, March 27, at City Hall, presented the draft results of an 18-month-long study on how the city can move forward.

"The vision in the mission statement, as we stand, is to be the most flourishing community in the greater Chattanooga area, linking strong neighborhoods and the entrepreneurial spirit together," Hamilton said.

"If we don't believe it can be done, it can't," he said. "It starts with believing that we can achieve something great. How are we going to achieve the vision? We have got to strategically invest in infrastructure. Infrastructure again is water lines, power. It's streets, sidewalks, trails -- kind of just the core of what it takes to make a livable, enjoyable city with a high quality of life.

"There is not a lot of pride in this town," he said. "I realize I am painting with a broad brush, but there is a lot of apathy. There is a lot of people that either feel like they can't make a difference. Maybe some don't want to make a difference. I don't think it is shame. I don't think anybody is ashamed of LaFayette, but there is not a lot of pride in LaFayette.

One problem LaFayette faces, Hamilton said, is youth moving away for college.

"We lose a lot of students. We lose a lot of good students that come through our school system and when they graduate high school and go off to college, they don't come back. That is a big problem," Hamilton said. "We have got to become a city that attracts these young leaders back to where they want to be a part of what we are doing and they want to help lead some of this effort."

The city is looking to bring a satellite college and/or career center to the area in the near future. It could possibly be located at the old LaFayette High School by partnering with schools like Dalton State College, Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Tech, or Berry College and Georgia Northwestern Technical College. Students would be able to attend college locally and businesses would grow around the campus, establishing a college community.

The follow related article, titled "LaFayette considers how to invest in its future," ran in the Feb. 23 edition of the Walker County Messenger.

By Josh O’Bryant, jobryant@npco.com

LaFayette looks to a future that could include broadband Internet as part of the city’s utilities package, as well as a possible satellite college at the old LaFayette High School.

Economic Development Director Kevin Dunn presented the council with a year-long study on how the city can predict the future and that is building towards it by investing in the city’s many strengths and working to change its weaknesses.

"Clean it up, Talk it up Build it up" and "take PRIDE in our community" is the summary for the work being accomplished to get LaFayette where it needs to be, Dunn said.

"We, of course, want to be a welcoming city for people to come and conduct business in and enjoy a high quality of life and we want more people to move here, don’t we?" Dunn asked the council.

The economic director spent a lot of time the past year conversing with various members of the community about their town of LaFayette and one reoccurring positive that he continued to hear was the city has a "hometown feel" to it.

Dunn said LaFayette needs to focus on more than just moving a large factory into town, but also encourage, create, and support small business growth.

Bringing in and encouraging entrepreneurs are just to a few ways to achieve sustainable economic vitality, Dunn presented to the council.

"You don’t want to depend upon just one or two big things, but take a holistic approach to everything," Dunn said.

Key things that stand out include land use, planning, and planning for the future.

Dunn said one of the most important aspects is education. Not only from an elementary and high school standpoint, but technical training as well.

"I have talked to many industrial leaders who say ‘I don’t always find the people that I need with the skills that I need ready to hire and ready to work’."

Dunn said a lot of the industrial leaders find people with technical skills, but lack soft skills like being able to communicate and cooperate with people.

"I have found some that have said ‘it would be good if I could just find some that would show up for work’," Dunn said.

"Where you live, you know, the amenities, the parks and the open spaces, these are all important components to what we would call economic vitality," Dunn said.

The people

Dunn also spoke of the average income of households in the city which shows that there are a few people who are making "a lot of money" and more people "making a lower amount."

"Immediately—what stands out—is we need to have higher paying jobs where we need to help people make more money because it all goes back to the economy," Dunn said.

The cost of living index in LaFayette is lower than the United States average, that is good news because it can attract someone to come and live in LaFayette because it is less expensive than somewhere like Chattanooga or Atlanta, Dunn said.

"This is literally the town that’s divided by the railroad tracks. There is the other side of the tracks and that is all tied into the medium income, so you have to develop your city all over and not just one particular area," Dunn said. "We want to build an economy that is really entrepreneurial."

Dunn said the city must be flexible.

Broadband and businesses

One idea is to bring broadband high speed Internet to be a part of the city’s utilities with the highest speed Internet service for residents and businesses for the widest area possible.

Other ideas for investment include a downtown boutique hotel, form and start a "kickstarter" community, and a coffee and Internet cafe or specialty tea shop, and try to get a company like Moon Pie to put a retail location in the city.

The city wants to create a welcoming environment for the film industry as well as attract major chain restaurants and other themed restaurants.

Dunn said the city needs to encourage the Downtown Development Authority to loan money to small business developments and/or considering developing "cooperative" companies where all employees (and consumers) have equal ownership in the company.

"Investment capital, people’s money and people. They are all mobile," Dunn said. "They can move. They can go somewhere else where there is a better opportunity for them, or there is more vitality in the economy. We have got to keep that in our minds at all times."

Dunn said we can all agree that it’s counter intuitive to attempt to move forward and say "we are going to build a future," but constantly be stuck with beliefs from the past.

Dunn said the city looked into a SWOT (Strength Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) that face the area.

Natural strengths include the close proximity to Crockford Pigeon Mountain, various historic sites, and being near the Cove area which open the area up to opportunities like developing and connecting bike trails and marketing natural and cultural resource strengths.

"We need to capitalize on that. We don’t get enough people that go out and do rock climbing and caving and hiking and all of that. We don’t have enough of them to come to town. For a multitude of reasons. There’s maybe not the type of places they want to eat, maybe not the type of place they want to stay in, so part of this plan is to work on how to draw those people that are out there doing that into town," Dunn said.

Housing strengths include a lower cost compared to other areas, senior living facilities, multiple areas to live like subdivisions, apartments and farms just to name a few.

"I’ve talked to a lot of people who said they would like to live in the city limits, but my taxes are higher. In the city, your county taxes are higher if you live in the city...It effects people’s decision making," Dunn said.

Transportation strengths include parts of the city are walkable, but street conditions, sidewalk repair/construction, and a landlocked airport comprise some of the weaknesses that needs to be addressed.

College and career center

One proposal for the future is bringing a satellite college and career center to the old LaFayette High School.

The idea is to partner with possibly Dalton State College, Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Tech, or Berry College and Georgia Northwestern Technical College to offer classes in LaFayette.

Initially, classes would likely be the general education courses required of most 4-year degrees during the first two years of college study.

This would allow for benefits in accessible, affordable college-level courses for the LaFayette area and would increase activity in the downtown area that would give way to economic advancement and cultural enrichment for students and families in the area.

The city doesn’t want to compete with GNTC, Dunn said.

"There are kids who can get scholarships to go to Dalton State, but they don’t have a way to get there, so they don’t go to college. So, one of the things that this would do is they wouldn’t have to travel that far to go to college, they could do a lot of their classes here," Dunn said.

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.