Taylor talks hospital closing, higher education during State of County address
At the Oakland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s June luncheon, Fayette County Mayor Rhea “Skip” Taylor noted modest growth and remained optimistic about challenges facing the county.
“We’ve got things going for us,” he said in his annual State of the County Address. “But we do have challenges.”
One of the county’s biggest challenges will be replacing the Methodist Fayette Hospital, which closed on March 27 due to unsustainable inpatient numbers (about one per day, according to Taylor).
Although the hospital was not utilized frequently, not having one at all is still a big blow, he noted.
The healthcare center was the county’s only emergency room. The county has ramped up its ambulance network and upped the number of EMT responders, but the lack of a close-to-home medical center fuels worry in medically at-risk residents. In addition, potential businesses will find the county less attractive if they cannot promise their employees adequate and timely emergency medical services, if necessary.
Although Taylor bemoaned the loss of Methodist, he refused to deny that there were no positives to come from the situation.
“Just because we lost something in a hospital,” he said, “you never know what’s going to show up down the road that could be even better.”
That something could be a University of Tennessee-Martin campus. Taylor said that, tentatively, classes this fall will be held in the abandoned hospital.
“There is going to be a location that Tennessee-Martin can land at and grow out from,” he said. “A hospital is not a college campus, so there’s going to be some remodeling, some time, some massaging. But it’s a place.”
Taylor seemed jubilant about the addition of higher education to his county’s repertoire, but felt that bickering about secondary schools, both public and private, has frustrated progress towards bettering education for the county’s children.
“Our educational foundation is our Achilles heel,” he said. “There needs to be a consensus of where we want to go with education, and it needs to be something very simple, very doable. It needs to have a destination.”
Regarding future development, Taylor noted that Highway 64, which runs straight through the county, will likely see growth. Two-thirds to three-fourths of the county’s population lives within three or four miles of the road, making it the “lifeline of Fayette County, bar none.”
Taylor went on to say that how Highway 64 is developed will correlate to how the county grows.
In addition to Highway 64, a state industrial megasite will trickle down into North Fayette County. The site, which was carefully chosen for West Tennessee due to its high unemployment rate, could result directly in 1,500 jobs, with an additional 2,000-to-3,000 jobs created in association with it.
Taylor said that the site could be an automotive plant, and that the jobs there would be lucrative enough for people to drive lengthy distances (likely through Fayette County) to work there.
While Fayette County has a low unemployment rate (6.5 percent), between 60-to-65 percent of the county commutes elsewhere for work. Taylor said he would like to see a stronger, more central community that can support growth around itself.
“We’ve got to be a more complete town and a complete community,” he said. “Everything that a community is sort of works around where they work and where they do their daily life.”
However, for there to be jobs in the county, there must be sites for new businesses to build.
Taylor said that the county’s inventory on building sites is low for a number of reasons. In order for growth to occur, the county must have at least some inventory, even if buyers don’t want it, to show something to potential buyers.
Taylor lauded the fact that Highway 385 recently opened on the West end, saying that “Fayette County became more accessible to parts of Shelby County.”
While Taylor wants county residents to remain in house, he said that he realizes it is now more convenient for those who commute to work to get there.
In conclusion, Taylor said he saw a bright future for Fayette County.
“We have modest growth going forward,” he said. “I think we’re in a good location. We’ve got all the reasons to be here.”
About Graham Sweeney
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