Workers are shown at Mullican Flooring in Johnson City, one of the successes in the county the Washington County Economic Development Council would like to see more of. (Contributed/Washington County Economic Development Council)
The future success of Washington County looks bright, and the Washington County Economic Development Council has created an action plan dedicated to seeing the area grow and develop.
The plan sets out five goals for the new fiscal year: retention and expansion of existing businesses, attraction of new investment and jobs to the area, continue efforts on the revitalization of downtown Johnson City, improve the overall business climate of Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County and improve the organizational effectiveness of the EDC.
While these aren’t necessarily new goals for the council, they are essential steps in growing both the organization’s footprint in the area and the continued development of Washington County itself.
Interim CEO Mitch Miller said the action plan is designed to keep an open line of communication between the organization and the community it serves to ensure the council stays focused while working to further develop the county.
“The whole reason we put this together was for accountability and transparency, so we can show our local governments and private members this is what we’re doing with your money and this is what we expect to do with all these actions,” he said. “To me, that’s important. This is a document that I can take to the County Commission on a monthly basis and say ‘this is what I’ve done for you.’ ”
The entire plan rests on two main principles: raising the profile and accessibility of the council and having the goods to deliver to potential investors.
There are three objectives under the first goal of helping existing businesses with retention and expansion that are all built around creating a program that would deepen connections with local business, including creating a database that would keep track of the existing businesses.
Through creating a program that highlights existing businesses and industries, council officials hope to help create more than $20 million in new investment and 300 new jobs by keeping jobs and investment in the community.
Under the second goal of attracting new investment and jobs to the area, the council has four objectives — all of which have to do with increasing marketing efforts and developing plans for additional business sites that will ultimately create at least $10 million in new investment and 200 new jobs.
Washington County does not have many new spots for additional business sites, but Miller said finding new places for potential investment is going to be one of the key elements of the action plan.
“That’s something that’s held us back in the past and having that goal in place where we can go out and do a lot of this ground work is going to be key in getting the city, the county and the town of Jonesborough to all buy in on it,” he said.
Since looking for new sites will be so integral to the future development of the county, the council has hired Tania Zeisler as a research associate.
Zeisler, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, will be primarily focusing on using geographic information systems to design maps and analyze property, demographics and other aspects of the community in order to develop plans for designing additional business sites.
Over the last couple of years, the face of downtown Johnson City has changed dramatically, and the council plans to keep that momentum moving forward with third goal of continuing revitalization efforts.
The objectives under the third goal include establishing a communications program for existing downtown businesses and recruiting new investment and opportunities in the downtown area.
By June 2014, the council hopes to help with the expansion at least two existing businesses and recruit three new businesses or residential developments to the downtown area.
The fourth goal of improving the business climate of the county has one objective, which will be to implement programs that increase the awareness of the economic development in the county by creating a better working relationship with governmental partners.
There are four objectives under the final goal of the action plan to improve the organizational effectiveness of the council. Those objectives include developing a strategic plan, focusing on staff development and enhance the council’s communication efforts.
In addition to the creation of the action plan, the council has already seen a number of successful projects this year, including gaining more members and investors, the addition of hundreds of jobs at a local employer with a national footprint, the continued revitalization of downtown Johnson City, and the approval of a plan to create a tax increment financing district in Boones Creek that will spur private retail development.
Another win for the area will be another potential retail development led by Nashville-based GBT Realty, which plans to develop 29 acres near the intersection of Sunset Drive and North State of Franklin Road.
The project, which is still in the works, will add another retail component to Johnson City, and GBT Realty CEO George Tomlin is excited about the potential of bringing his business to the area.
“We are pleased to be entering the Tri-Cities market at one of the prime locations in the metro area’s leading retail city, Johnson City. This is a growing market with tremendous potential, and we’re excited about the opportunity we have to bring new retail options to the region,” GBT Realty CEO George Tomlin said.
Miller said more retail in the area is what helps keep Johnson City the leader in the Tri-Cities in terms of retail dominance, which makes the area more attractive to other developers, as well keeping taxes low.
“Those guys aren’t in Johnson City and probably didn’t know a whole lot about Johnson City, but we got them here and were able to sell them on the community. Now, they have a 29-acre site and are going to invest $22 million, which is huge,” he said.
With the plan in place and the council working with a greater focus on future development, Lottie Ryans, incoming chairwoman of the council, said it will keep the organization on track to ensure more business comes to Washington County.
“We want to make sure we focus on all sizes of businesses and meet with them and make sure that they’re getting what they need in terms of connecting them with government officials and helping them get through some of the policy issues they need to work on, so to be able to focus on existing business and help them to stay in business or grow is fundamental. As businesses find our area to be a great climate, they’re inclined to help other businesses,” Ryans said.