Local leaders seek a regional vision

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Frank Tamberrino and Tom Mendez don’t have a crystal ball that predicts the future but they do have an idea of what the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area will look like in the next decade.

They have spent the past 13 months working with community and business leaders to create a shared vision of the region’s future. “As with most visionary processes, what we are trying to do is look out to 2020 to see what we want the community to be,” says Tamberrino, president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.

Mendez, vice president and client executive with BB&T Insurance Services, is chairman of the chamber’s board of directors. “I thought it would be good to have all of these parties and community leaders come together to share plans and outlooks,” he says. “The chamber is ideal for bridging divides and bringing people together.”

His idea for the project was based on the area’s projected future growth. According to the Virginia Employment Com­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­mission, the 2010 population of the city and county is 121,306. That number is expected to rise to 134,379 in 2020.

The growth spurt is being fueled in part by increasing enrollment at James Madison University, the opening of a new drug research facility in the area and the completion of a new campus for Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

The planning process has included the city of Harrisonburg, Rockingham County and several towns in the county. The vision statement is expected to address a wide range of concerns from creating a business environment that fosters growth to supporting a system of lifelong learning.

In focus group sessions, about 75 community leaders and CEOs outlined the most important 12 issues for the next 15 years. “We took the top four to develop strategies for the next steps,” Mendez says.

A version of the vision statement will be presented to the public on Oct. 7 at Blue Ridge Community College. The finished project is scheduled for February 2011. “We will look at the October feedback and put together a plan,” Mendez says. “The key is to have city managers and government leaders embrace this plan. They have to buy into it for the vision to become a reality.”

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