When the Johnson City Development Authority, the Economic Development Board and the Public Building Authority merged in 2010 to form the Washington County Economic Development Council, the mission of each entity was clear — to foster a unified approach to marketing and developing the economic outlook for the area.
Two years after its formation, the Economic Development Council has released its inaugural report, which details how the council has grown and the positive turnaround Washington County has seen in terms of economic development.
While things may have started out a bit rocky for the council, the recent announcement of businesses that could bring nearly 2,000 jobs to the county is certainly a testament to the ground work being laid by the council.
“When we were all separate entities, we created a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty is the enemy of investment,” council CEO Robert Reynolds said in March. “We’ve taken giant steps forward with our marketing and the ability to deal with the requests from companies that are looking to expand and relocate here and create a new presence here unlike what we were able to do when we were so fragmented.”
Expansions that have taken place since 2011 include Fiber Innovation Technology, which is moving forward with a $2 million expansion resulting in nearly 30 new jobs; Clinical Management Concepts’s $3.4 million pharmaceutical facility resulting in about 25 new jobs; Mullican Flooring’s $12 million relocation resulting in more than 160 new jobs by 2015; and Naketetsu Machining Technologie’s $6.3 million expansion resulting in 35 new jobs.
Other announcements include IPE America’s plan to locate at East Tennessee State University’s Valleybrook Campus as the facility’s first pharmaceutical research and development startup, the growing commercial activity in the county, efforts to revitalize downtown Johnson City and the expansion of Northeast State Community College into Johnson City at the Downtown Centre.
The county’s unemployment numbers continue to drop, especially when compared to where they were two years ago.
On Thursday, the state released figures that show Washington County’s jobless rate fell to 6.5 percent in March, making it the fourth-lowest in Tennessee.
Nearly 4,500 more people are working than during the recession two years ago when the county’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent.
But just because the council has seen many positives doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.
One of the biggest aspects of development the council is looking at is how they plan to “ramp up” their efforts to expand the Washington County Industrial Park and continue to seek out opportunities to develop new land for potential employers.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to establish new sites and things for companies to expand and relocate. We’re extremely low on inventory, so at the same time we’re making these announcements and looking at these results, we have to look for new opportunities for new investment,” council CEO Robert Reynolds said.
Without new land, they won’t be able to attract the kind of business needed to keep the momentum of what the council has already done from slowing down.
Part of those efforts stem from current projects like Founders Park in downtown Johnson City and other developments like Innovation Park across from the Johnson City Medical Center.
Those are the types of projects that will continue to spur economic development years down the road, Reynolds said, especially in terms of breathing some new life into the downtown area.
“We’ve got some really detailed work on creating a program to revitalize downtown as well, so there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that’s not visible yet, but there’s a tremendous amount of work being done,” he said.
That being said, it’s still a plus to have one of lowest unemployment rates in the state, which can only mean good things as people head back to work and new jobs continue to be created.
“That says a lot about our work force and companies that are established here. It’s a great place to do business once you’re in business here,” Reynolds said.
Another way the council plans to spur development is through the launching of its re-tooled website, TheWCEDC.com. The redesign has allowed the council’s Internet presence to become much more streamlined to become an extension of the unified effort for economic development.
A rotating “news feed,” which includes stories and videos about local businesses, expansions and overall development, a connection to the council’s Facebook page, a listing of available sites and buildings, and an easy-to-use interface are all aspects of the site, which has been live for about a month.
“It’s not a giant change, but with my background in information and news, I felt like it would be a good asset to have a very steady presence of informative news-like and feature-like pieces on there,” council Director of Marketing and Community Relations Jeff Keeling said.
Keeling said he hopes the new website’s focus on showing what kind of development is being done in the county becomes a useful resource for those who care about growth and progress in the area.
“I think one of the calling cards of the Johnson City and Washington County metro area is going to be the tremendous quality of life that we have here and that’s the kind of thing that you can convey through a website and through articles, pictures and video,” he said.
One of the website’s key components is property listings, which is expected to go live in early May.
Being able to see what is available is extremely important for outside entities and falls within the council’s mission of developing more property for future employers.
“It’s really a key component of our website where people can see the availability of the product out there. We’ve got to have product on our website and this is something we’ve been working on for a long time. We’re excited to get this up and online,” Reynolds said.
For more information, including a look at the council’s inaugural report, visit TheWCEDC.com.