COVID-19, the census and the future of Highlands are several big things on my mind. All three are now in play and will be for the coming months. What will be their lasting impacts?
The coronavirus has changed life across our nation, state and in local communities like Highlands. Our school will open soon and extraordinary changes will be implemented to protect and educate our children. After the virus subsides classrooms will return to some form of past normalcy, but I suspect some practices implemented during the pandemic, like current distant and online learning options, will impact schools from here on out.
A similar impact will be with how local government meetings are conducted. The ZOOM/WEBEX formats aren’t going away. For the short term, I have an idea how we can meld the August digital town board meeting with an in-person component. The primary delivery system will be ZOOM. But, I and and a small cadre of staff will be on ZOOM at the Highlands Community Building. Anyone who wants to make an in-person public comment will have the option of coming to the conference center and making the comment in front of a ZOOM camera that will be broadcasted to all the commissioners and folks on the ZOOM meeting. The only provision will be that social distancing, masking, and limited capacity will be required. The masks will not be required when one is making a comment.
The U.S. Census will also impact Highlands. I have encouraged all Highlanders and Macon County residents to respond. What is interesting will be the number of full-time residents in the town limits. In past censuses that number has been steady at between 900 to 1000. I suspect that will be the case for 2020.
The takeaway for some will be that we need to grow our businesses and population. Incidental information from the real estate community suggests home sales are robust, even in this state of emergency.
Some folks bet that short term rentals will be a major part of our future economy. That may be so to some extent. But, with world class broadband access let me propose an alternative. Like distance learning for school children, there may be a lasting movement toward working from home as we have seen during this pandemic.
For many professional workers this is a viable option, and I think this trend will mushroom here. We are strategically poised to capitalize on this growing trend. While tourism will continue to play a major role in our economy, the increase of permanent, full-time residents doing telecommuting and work from home would have very positive, social, economic and, yes, environmental impacts for Highlands.
The impending comprehensive plan will certainly examine Highlands’ future economic and social trends. I look forward to what our community envisions and embraces.