Location could help Union County benefit from region’s growth

The next 40 years will see a 14-county region of the Carolinas experience enormous growth in population and jobs and Union County is positioned to benefit from that growth.

A group of approximately 30 Union County officeholders, development officials, business people, and members of the general public took part in Tuesday’s CONNECT Our Future community growth workshop at the Union County Advanced Technology Center. The workshop is part of the CONNECT Our Future initiative which seeks to help the counties of a 14-county region of the Carolinas prepare for plan for the growth that is projected to occur in the region over the next 40 years. The goal of Tuesday’s workshop was to enable residents from all walks of life and all areas of Union County provide initiative officials with their vision for the future growth of Union County during that time period.

The initiative is being undertaken by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments which serves the South Carolina counties and the Centralia Council of Governments which serves the North Carolina counties that make up the Connect Our Future region. During Tuesday’s workshop, Cole McKinney, Regional Initiatives Coordinator for Catawba Regional, said that he was pleased with the cross-section of Union County residents who participated in the workshop.

“I’m thrilled with the turnout we had here and the diversity,” McKinney said. “We’ve got diversity of different areas of the county, I feel we’ve got all the areas of the county here. We’ve also got citizens as well as policy makers.”

The Connect Our Future region is composed of the North Carolina counties of Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, and Union, and the South Carolina counties of Chester, Lancaster, Union, and York. The region’s population — which currently stands at approximately 2.4 million — is projected to grow by 50 percent in 20 years and to double within 40 years, an increase of 1.8 million people and 860,000 new jobs.

McKinney said Union County’s location places it in a strong position to benefit from the growth that’s now occurring and is projected to occur in the region.

“Union is between the Catawba and Charlotte region and the Greenville-Spartanburg area,” McKinney said. “So you’ve got two economic engines and Union is in between them. That puts Union in a unique position to benefit from both of them.”

To benefit from that growth, Union County must plan for the future and that includes literally mapping out the county’s future over the next 40 years. That’s what the participants in Tuesday’s workshop did as they were divided into three groups, each with it own map of Union County. With the aid of facilitators provided by the initiative, they then designated the areas they felt would be the best for industrial, commercial, and residential development over the next 40 years. They also sought to address the infrastructure required to support this development as well as other issues such as recreation and conservation.

McKinney said the maps developed by the workshop will be used by initiative officials to develop a map reflecting the consensus of those participating in the workshop.

“We’ll take the maps created today and look for areas of commonality,” McKinney said. “We’ll look for where each one of the tables identified a type of development in a particular area of the county consistently.”

McKinney said that in addition to the map reflecting the consensus of the group, the initiative will develop scenarios for growth in the county over the next 40 years. He said those scenarios will also include different options the county can use to successfully manage and benefit from that growth.

Once the map and the scenarios and options are developed, McKinney said initiative officials will bring them back to Union County for the public to review, consider and make further input on.

“We’ll be looking for more public feedback on that in the spring of 2014,” McKinney said.

For more information on CONNECT Our Future, please visit http://www.connectourfuture.org.

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times