Over the last few years all of our energies, as families and as a community, have been invested in trying to weather the current economic storm. Instead of planning for the future we’ve been scrambling to develop short term solutions to address immediate needs; and if asked about the future, like Scarlet O’Hara we’ve been inclined to respond, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
But even as we work through these difficult times, we cannot ignore the future. The challenges we face today are great, but even greater challenges lie ahead. Consider the following:
• According to the 2010 Census Clermont County’s population now stands at just under 200,000. Our rate of growth has slowed in recent years, but according to the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD), Clermont County’s population will approach 225,000 by 2020, and may reach 245,000 by 2030. This growth will have a profound effect on our community. For example, if you think traffic is bad now, imagine the congestion with another 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles on our roads each day.
• Because of our large Boomer population Clermont County ranks third among Ohio’s 88 counties for the projected growth of its older population over the next decade. Our 60+ population will grow from about 35,000 today to over 50,000 by 2020, and may top 60,000 by 2030. How will this growth impact the health, housing, transportation, recreation, and other needs of an aging population?
• Children born this year will graduate from high school in 2030. K-12 enrollment is growing and will continue to grow, while families and businesses throughout the county struggle just to pay their current level of property taxes. At the post-secondary level UC Clermont and the Grant and Live Oaks Career Centers must grow to help produce a talented and skilled workforce for the future. How will we maintain a strong educational system over the next 10-20 years?
• As our county has grown, we have seen a steady increase in crime. Sentences are issued for incarceration in the county jail, but some offenders are sent home because the Sheriff’s budget is insufficient to open empty beds at the jail. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining fire/EMS and police services continues to rise, while property taxes to help pay for those services are declining due to reduced property values. Officials are trying to come up with meaningful short term solutions, but how will we address this issue as our population continues to grow over the next 10 to 20 years?
• The life blood of a vibrant community is job creation in the private sector. How can we work together to create a business job-friendly environment to retain and expand existing businesses, and to attract new businesses to help our community grow over the next 10-20 years?
Some issue-specific planning for the future is being done by government and various organizations, but it has been a long time since we have conducted a coordinated community wide initiative to create a Vision for the Future.
In October 1988, Ed Parish, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, and Bill Over, a marketing and public relations executive, convened 63 community leaders to have a conversation about the future of Clermont County. The outcome of this meeting was the creation of a bipartisan planning team that engaged leaders and citizens from throughout the county to create a Vision for the Future titled “Clermont 2001.”
That was nearly 25 years ago. I believe it is time to create a new Vision for the Future of Clermont County.
Some may question whether in these uncertain, even volatile, economic times it is wise to undertake such an endeavor. I contend it is these very economic conditions that should compel us to do so. Doing so won’t be easy. The future challenges we face today are even greater than they were in 1988. But if we fail to put forth our best effort to create and shape our future, the winds of change and others will dictate our future for us.
I’m not talking about a county government vision, but I do believe our county commissioners are in a unique position to initiate this effort. The county commissioners, other community leaders, and key constituencies have an important role to play in the process, but in the end we need a Vision for the Future of Clermont County that belongs to the people.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.