By Sarah R. Wallace

As an eighth generation Licking County resident, my family has deep, deep roots in Licking County.  In the last one hundred years, my father and grandfather, J. Gilbert and Everett D. Reese, made the work of improving our Licking County community their life’s work.  I was so fortunate to have the opportunity, in my adult life, to work and learn from them.  I too, love our community and have spent my life working to try to enhance the quality of life for our residents.  Growing up on Merchant Street in Newark we would ride our bikes throughout town visiting with neighbors and friends and buying penny candy from filling stations and neighborhood grocery stores.  Beginning with these early memories, I have always felt a strong sense of community.  After returning from college to work at First Federal in 1980, I had the opportunity to get to know the many communities throughout our county.  I have gained a great appreciation for all that makes each community unique but also feel the essence of what it means to be a Licking County resident.

When news broke of Intel’s selection of Licking County as the site for their new FABs there was tremendous excitement about what this means for our region and for our nation.  The announcement also generated many questions about what this means for Licking County.  This is an unprecedented opportunity but we need to work together to ensure our values are at the forefront of the growth and that we do it in a way that enhances where we call home.

The Thomas J. Evans Foundation saw the opportunity to serve as a neutral convener for communities who are likely to feel the most immediate impacts of development. In addition to the facilitation of the planning initiative we are partnering with business leadership from First Federal Savings, Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority, Licking Memorial Health Systems, Park National Bank, and Southgate Corporation to fund 65% of the planning costs.  We have confirmed participation from nearly half of the targeted jurisdictions and hope to confirm the rest over the next month as they seek approval from their respective communities.

We have already begun work with the Planning NEXT team led by Principal, Jamie Greene, AIA, FAICP getting their team up to speed as they prepare to lead our community through the creation of a county framework that can inform smart growth over the next few decades.  As Jamie recently shared, “We want to work at the speed of right.”  We all have a sense of urgency but at the same time we need to do this well so that we can all stand back in 5-10 years and be proud of the communities we are all living in.

Through their work, Planning NEXT will be stitching together the plans that are already underway.  The scope of their work will likely evolve as we learn more.  We will not duplicate work that is already being funded by the county, state or local jurisdictions.  Our effort will provide a framework for our county that will inform the decisions being made in the townships, villages, cities and the county going forward.