Newton’s dream­ers

The Covington News - - Front page -

It’s easy for some who call them­selves ra­tio­nal thinkers to dis­miss dream­ers and their dreams. Dream­ers are viewed as starry-eyed loafers with an aver­sion to a hard day’s work. But think of dream­ers like Henry Ford, Ted Turner, Bill Gates. Wi t h o u t dream­ers, there’d have been no United States of Amer­ica. This world needs its dream­ers.

I won­der some­times if we’ve lost the art of dream­ing in this com­mu­nity, if our vi­sion has de­vel­oped cataracts, so I asked some I con­sider to be vi­sion­ary thinkers what dreams of theirs might re­vi­tal­ize this place we call home.

District 3 Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz lights up when she talks about the po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ing our­selves as a telecom­mut­ing com­mu­nity. “It’s the wave of the fu­ture,” she says. “It’s what uni­ver­si­ties and grad schools are preach­ing. But telecom­muters get lonely work­ing in their cu­bi­cles. What they want in a town is for places to meet and so­cial­ize, like cof­fee­houses, mu­sic venues and parks and pub­lic spa­ces wired with broad­band.” Asheville, N.C., where the Schulz’s daugh­ter lives and telecom­mutes, has be­come just such a haven by of­fer­ing qual­ity of life op­tions that com­ple­ment the town’s nat­u­ral set­ting. It could eas­ily hap­pen here, Nancy says, if the ameni­ties are put in place.

Li­brary Di­rec­tor Greg Heid dreams of New- ton County as an artists’ com­mu­nity to draw arts afi­ciona­dos and stu­dents out of metro At­lanta in search of con­tact with work­ing artists in a bu­colic ru­ral set­ting. “We have unique art gal­leries and artists in pock­ets around the county,” he says. A dream like this could up­lift the en­tire com­mu­nity, he main­tains, be­cause art ful­fills the hu­man spirit. “We are not whole with­out art in our lives. An artists’ colony could be a great tourism draw.” Dr. Bradd Shore, an Emory an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sor, says his dream is to see us cap­i­tal­ize to a greater ex­tent on our long his­tory as a film and TV lo­cale — maybe a film fes­ti­val — to at­tract tourists.

Scott Wil­lis is next year’s chair of the Cham­ber of Com­merce. His dream is based on first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence with cor­po­ra­tions be­ing courted to ex­pand or lo­cate here. “They want to know first if we have sewer and elec­tric ca­pac­ity, but what they re­ally care about is where their em­ploy­ees are go­ing to live. They want civic cen­ters, trails, parks, swim fa­cil­i­ties and good schools. Restau­rants we’ve talked to about lo­cat­ing down­town say their de­ci­sion hinges on the build­ing of the civic cen­ter to bring more pa­trons in.” Newton County’s 2050 Build­out Plan is bril­liant, Wil­lis says. “Ev­ery­one in the state wants to know how we did it. We’ve got to stop lis­ten­ing to naysay­ers and build the com­mit­ment for ac­tion. It’s time to get busy and not lay back. What does a racer do in the turns? He ac­cel­er­ates. That’s where we are.” One dream of Wil­lis was for the city/county to gain con­trol of the Nor­folk-South­ern rail­road right-of-way, but that dream is ei­ther stalled or dead. “At a min­i­mum, it could have pro­vided the right-of-way for pump­ing wa­ter from Bear Creek into town,” he said.

A long­time com­mu­nity ob­server said: “For the past 20 years, we’ve ap­pealed to new­com­ers pri­mar­ily for our cheap hous­ing, but we have to give peo­ple a more com­pelling rea­son to choose to live here; if not, the fu­ture will be bleaker than the present.” More than half the lo­cal in­dus­try man­agers don’t even live in Newton County, he tells me. He echoes Wil­lis when he says that bet­ter ed­u­cated and bet­ter paid in­di­vid­u­als want ameni­ties like recre­ation, en­ter­tain­ment venues, trails, smart growth, his­toric preser­va­tion and a com­mit­ment to the arts, along with good pub­lic schools and pri­vate school op­tions. A dream led to the cre­ation of the Newton County Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, soon to launch a cam­paign to raise funds for pub­lic schools in or­der to sup­port teach­ers who will in­spire the stu­dents who then will be­come con­tribut­ing mem­bers of this com­mu­nity, ex­plained chair Kathie Smith.

One of the most vi­sion­ary peo­ple in town is Randy Vin­son. Of the present, he says: “I’m op­ti­mistic we’ll weather this eco­nomic storm, but we’re in for sig­nif­i­cant changes in the scale and type of growth from here on out. The flow of cap­i­tal is greatly re­duced, and I don’t fore­see it com­ing back in the vol­ume of a few years ago.” Of the fu­ture, he says: “The com­mu­ni­ties that will sur­vive and thrive again will be the ones that em­brace lo­cal busi­nesses, food pro­duc­ers, artists and other sec­tors in their midst. We should be do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to cel­e­brate our unique lo­cal econ­omy. This is just com­mon sense. We need to learn how to live as lo­cally as pos­si­ble for all our needs.

“It may cost a lit­tle more but think of the time you’ll save, the peo­ple you’ll meet and help, and all the good you’ll do for the lo­cal econ­omy and en­vi­ron­ment. This is what I be­lieve will pull us out of the eco­nomic tail­spin we’re in.”

Kay Lee Brown of The Cen­ter for Com­mu­nity Preser­va­tion and Plan­ning doesn’t be­lieve there is just one sil­ver bul­let that’s go­ing to put Newton County back on the map. “It’s when we stay in di­a­logue with each other that the great idea is go­ing to emerge.” Thanks to our dream­ers.

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