By Tia Lynn Ivey
“Do we want to be a community of old people?”
That was the question posed by Rope Roberts, with Georgia Power, at the 2019 Economic Summit last week. Roberts argued that Madison and Morgan County need to embrace growth by cultivating a community in which young professionals can affordably work, play and live.
The event, sponsored by the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce, and attended by officials from Morgan County, the City of Madison, the City of Rutledge, the City of Bostwick, and the Morgan County School system, was held Iast week to explore strategies to handle future growth.
“We have got so many pressures coming from Stanton Springs and the development out there with Facebook and Takeda, so I wanted to get all of our leadership together to handle the growth coming into our county,” said Bob Hughes, president of the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce.
Roberts conducted a day-long summit, presenting various data, statistics, and strategies concerning community growth. Affordable housing seemed to the missing puzzle piece in Madison and Morgan County. Roberts argued it is both the cost and typical size of traditional homes in communities like Madison that prevent young professionals from laying down roots here. Roberts advocated to tiny houses and smaller rental properties like Town Homes to be built in order to give the younger generations more affordable options.
“It’s not just about the price of housing, it’s the look, too. And that’s where I see down the road, a clash of cultures,” warned Roberts. “The houses that we built up, the next generation doesn’t want them. If you want people to live here and work here, we are going to have to have the product they want to live in…“A lot of these folks don’t need a three-bedroom, two-bath house,” said Roberts. “It’s too much space for them.”
Robert encouraged leaders to embrace different styles of housing that are smaller in size and come with smaller price tags.
“If people work here but can’t afford to live here, that’s a problem,” said Roberts.
Roberts noted the huge investment Morgan County puts into educating students and encouraged leaders to create a community they can return to after college to live and work.
“Your greatest asset is the graduating class of Morgan County,” said Roberts. “But will they have the option to come back to live here after college?”
Roberts warned leaders to be mindful of the next generation when making growth decisions.
“We are not going to be here forever and who will take our place?” asked Roberts. “Or do we just want to be a community of old people? I’m one of them, so I can say that,” laughed Roberts.
Roberts noted some of Morgan County’s barriers to economic growth. In addition to lack of workforce housing, Morgan County must also tackle lack of access to broadband, creating a balanced taxable, improving infrastructure, defining a cohesive vision for the community, securing diverse job opportunities at all levels, and work around “restrictive zoning” policies. He praised Morgan County for its tourism industry, stellar school system and new hospital, as well as quality of life features such as ample green space and recreational opportunities.
“We want to have that balance,” said Roberts.
Hughes hopes the summit provided useful information to local leaders and will help unify them in a vision for Madison and Morgan County.
“It’s good to have a cross-section of all our leaders here to be on the same page,” said Hughes.