Officials hear ‘megaregion’ ideas in Macon

The country’s most successful cities in the future will plan collectively as a region to tackle three pressing issues: water, energy and transportation, according to experts who gathered this week at the Centreplex in Macon.

That idea is championed by the Center for Quality Growth & Regional Development at Georgia Tech, a coalition of businesses, research universities and municipal governments.

The center developed the idea for five years before putting it into action a year ago with the help of Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Pat McCrory and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

“This isn’t something that the states could do alone,” the center’s director, Catherine Ross, said, calling her group a “grass-roots movement” to make the region more competitive with other parts of the country.

First, officials have to convince cities to stop thinking of each other as the competition.

“We’ve got to increase the size of the pie and then we can fight over the pieces,” said Harry West, another center official.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who attended the two-day conference, said the idea is like “the world’s largest neighborhood association.” The Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion, one of 10 in the United States, spans six Southeastern states (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida) and includes cities and areas identified as having significant population growth and movement.

Ross, who wrote 2009’s “Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness,” said the idea creates a way to think beyond state lines and city limits.

She pointed to the new Kia car plant in west Georgia, which has long been considered a victory for the state but has since become a boon to neighboring Alabama. Ross said that the more officials plan together, the more successful the megaregion becomes and the more everyone benefits.

The mayor likened it to kudzu. “This growth is coming,” Reichert said. “We’re not trying to foster it or attract it. We’re trying to control it.”

Ross praised Reichert as “one of the best leaders” in the Southeast, citing the recent transformation of the Terminal Station into a multimodal hub.

Its future should involve the return of passenger train service, she said, and with the megaregion effort, that will happen more quickly by coordinating efforts to take advantage of federal funding.

West said the status the U.S. enjoys was created during and shortly after World War II. The last aggressive advancement in national transportation, he said, was the interstate system.

That must change, he said, and the megaregion movement can do that, helping make the country more competitive globally.

“What we’ve enjoyed the last 50 years,” West said, “will be enjoyed elsewhere over the next 50 years.”

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.