‘Vision’ assessment outlines Fayette’s future challenges
Solutions sought to attract young families; Fayette 2nd lowest birth rate in Ga.
A new stem to stern data-driven assessment of Fayette County is focusing on the county’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for both residents and local businesses to help pave the way to success for all.
The 50-page “competitive assessment” document, available at www.fayettevision.org/project_downloads, blends the results of a citizen survey along with interviews of local residents and factual data ranging from demographics to crime statistics and more.
It’s part of the Fayette Visioning Initiative undertaken by the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce last fall.
The assessment will be the backbone of the next phase of the visioning process: the creation of a vision plan to provide short and long-term goals for Fayette County’s future.
Among the ground covered in the assessment are the county’s high median income and high education level for its residents, to the recent trend of young families choosing elsewhere to live because they are seeking out different lifestyles than Fayette has to offer.
One significant challenge the community faces is attracting high-paying jobs here, as nearly 60 percent of residents have to suffer through the commute into metro Atlanta for employment. The upshot is that with the county’s high levels of educational attainment, the median household income here of $79,550 surpasses the Atlanta metro average by more than $12,000.
That said, Fayette County’s year-to-year population growth has stagnated, and many see the problem as a failure to attract young professionals who are single or just starting their families. As evidence of this trend, Fayette County in 2011 had the second lowest birth rate among Georgia’s 159 counties.
“This dynamic is likely the result of in-migrants moving to Fayette once they already have children, in order to access the schools,” the report concluded. “The implication is that the community is not a relatively attractive place for singles or young couples that are considering but have yet to have children.”
The study also concludes that many youth in the county don’t move back “because they cannot afford to or because there is absence of the types of housing and amenities that are attractive to their demographic.”
Fayette’s rental units are also showing their age and are by and large pricier compared to median prices in metro Atlanta.
While the survey showed a perception that Fayette is struggling with crime issues, data shows that violent crime and property crime are both down and those rates are well below metro Atlanta’s, the study indicated. It was also noted that despite a spike in 2008, property crimes have been on a downward trend since.
Another challenge Fayette faces is a disconnect with filling positions needed by local companies. Participants in a small business focus group noted that skilled jobs paying between $35,000 and $75,000 a year are the hardest to fill including automotive technicians, mental health professionals, engineers, computer programmers, licensed clinicians, skilled information technology, graphic design, registered nurses and trades such as welders, insulators, fabricators and electricians.
Fayette also is set apart from other communities on the south side of Atlanta due to a lack of a technical school here, the report said.
“In order to bring the kinds of jobs that will retain young professionals and better match the desires of residents, Fayette will need to address availability of commercial space, transportation networks and broadband infrastructure,” the report concluded.
There is also promise that the fledgling Pinewood Atlanta Studios development will lead to a steady source of local jobs as well, the report indicated. Pinewood in fact is seen by many as a big key to Fayette’s economic future, the report said.
The county is also experiencing an influx of diversity over the past few years, although a perception that lower income minorities have been at the heart of it is not reflected in the data. In fact, black residents have higher median incomes and higher rates of educational attainment here than in metro Atlanta as a whole, the study noted.
“While there are distinct attitudinal differences between black and white residents, such as feelings of attachment and perceptions of openness, there are many similarities between the groups, especially as it comes to rating quality of life,” the study concluded.
The report was compiled by Market Street Services Inc. based on 1,478 responses to an online survey along with more than 220 individuals who took part in focus groups, one-on-one interviews and a community leadership meeting, organizers said.
One of the big wishes on the citizen survey was for a performing arts venue, festivals and other events, followed by arts and cultural programming, according to the study.
“Survey respondents, when asked to vote for the things they leave Fayette for, rated ‘artistic performances’ and ‘music venues’ as among the most common reasons to leave,” the study noted.
The study was designed to compare Fayette County with three other high-performing counties: Williamson County, Tennessee; Hanover County, Virginia and Forsyth County, Ga. along with metro Atlanta and the nation.
What’s next will be the crucial moment for the visioning process as a whole.
“The data in this report provides the opportunity to discuss the questions of ‘where are we now?’ and ‘where do we want to go?’” said Visioning Initiative co-chair Trey Ragsdale. “We now have the building blocks for our community to begin to craft a strategic vision for Fayette County.”
Meanwhile the group is continuing to solicit public input on its website www.fayettevision.org through its “MindMixer” platform to “strengthen the ideas, solutions and participation in this important process,” Ragsdale said.
The organization urges residents to visit the MindMixer site frequently because questions will be updated routinely to help shape the initial vision plan and its short and long-term goals.
The entire process is being guided by Market Street Services consulting firm, and the Visioning Initiative steering committee is headed up by a veritable who’s who of Fayette County movers and shakers from local and state government to a variety of business representatives as well.
For additional questions about the initiative, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.