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Regional growth panel reviews findings
0927 Jeff Ricketson
Jeff Ricketson - photo by File photo

At its regular meeting Tuesday afternoon, members of the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Growth Management Partnership board reviewed preliminary findings on what challenges and possibilities lie ahead for future growth plans.
Key issues presented include housing and land development, workforce and labor, public services and education, all of which were discussed with 115 community stakeholders in four counties, who make up subcommittees for comment on these areas of growth.

One challenge noted by stakeholders is development in unincorporated areas. Developments of this type in Long County are unable to connect to city water and sewer service and could potentially affect environmentally sensitive areas through the use of septic systems, said Liz Drake of the design and planning firm AECOM.
“There’s also minimal diversity in land use, and retail/commercial development is not following residential development,” Drake said.
General housing issues pinpointed in the findings include a lack of diverse types of affordable housing to accommodate current and incoming soldiers and their families.
Housing in the growth areas of Liberty, Long, Bryan and Tattnall counties tends to be single-family, subdivision style housing with few related amenities for families. Additionally, there are few professionally managed, investment-grade apartment buildings in the Fort Stewart region.
Drake said while Bryan County residences come with more amenities, they also come with higher prices, and as a likely result see more high-ranking soldiers moving in. On a positive note, Drake said stakeholders noted that recent developments are more accommodating to enlisted soldiers’ needs.
“BAH [basic allowance for housing] falls within the rent ranges for newer developments,” she said.
The findings in workforce and labor reviews garnered the most feedback from members. Stakeholders in this field commented the local workforce tends to lack basic job skills and work ethic, and that training in these areas should begin as early as middle school.
Additionally, business stakeholders told researchers that technical programs are not meeting the needs of regional employers in an effective manner.
These and other comments appeared to run counter to what board members say is a predominant strength of the region. Board members asked if these same companies were participating in current opportunities to  connect with college programs.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said issues that stakeholders had in finding workers who had the specific skills they needed are being addressed currently through programs that are available at local technical and community colleges. “Training can be tailored to specific industries,” Thomas said.
Some findings in other areas that will help shape the growth-management approach:

Health care
• Fewer than 31 percent of all doctors accept TRICARE insurance, which is used almost exclusively by the military population
• Long County lacks a permanent care provider in all specialties

• There are expected capacity challenges in areas of growth, particularly in terms of military family population
• The lag between enrollment reporting and budget revision creates a funding lag for schools
• More opportunities for military spouse employment programs are desired

Child care
• Child care space openings are cyclical depending on the military presence
• Head Start programs remain full

Public services
• A lack of service to rural areas limits the type and amount of growth counties can experience
• Some communities’ infrastructure can’t meet current demands

Land use
• Planned communities in south Bryan County and eastern Liberty County are being built in potentially environmentally sensitive areas
• There is a desire to preserve prime agriculture and forestry land in Long and Tattnall counties
• Newer residential areas lack access to amenities and retail services
In interviewing stakeholders, planners did hear suggested opportunities for meeting expected demand. Among the suggestions were the sale of Interstate Paper-owned tracts of land that can drive master-planned developments, utilizing strip centers in mature areas.
In other meeting news, partnership director Jeff Ricketson gave a director’s report on the status of the grant that funds the regional growth plan. The current funds are expected to run out concurrent with the end of the initial phase, which is slated for June.
Ricketson asked the board to approve applying for an OEA implementation grant to use through June 2011.
“The partnership must apply for additional funds to help cities and counties implement changes based on the plan,” he said. The board approved the request.

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