The Washington County Economic Development Council is busier than ever, and for an economy that’s on the upswing following the recession, that’s good news.
During the Friday meeting of the Johnson City Development Authority, members of the council announced a total of 26 active new business or expansion projects in the county that could bring nearly 2,000 jobs and an investment of $113 million.
Some of the projects in the works that have yet to be announced include a $2 million investment with the potential to create 30 jobs; a $3 million investment with the potential to create more than 45 jobs with an average salary of $60,000 or more; and a $5 million investment with the potential to create hundreds of jobs in the county.
One of the additions to the job market in the county is the new pharmaceutical location in Innovation Park across from the Johnson City Medical Center.
The location is going to house the offices of Pharmacy Network Services Inc. and Clinical Management Concepts, according to former Wilson Pharmacy owner Guy Wilson, who now operates the other two companies.
“We sold the retail to Mountain States (Health Alliance), (and now) we’re expanding our institutional pharmacy and our specialty compounding pharmacy,” Wilson said.
Over the course of the next two to three years, Wilson said the company will add anywhere from 25 to 45 jobs. He said he hopes the building will be completed by May.
Wilson said their growth is just another part of the overall growth that is occurring within the county.
“I’ve been around for many years and I think we’ve made some tremendous progress within the last three or four years,” he said.
Although many of the other projects aren’t quite done deals, the fact that Washington County is seeing that kind of potential job growth says a lot about where it stands in the wake of the economic downturn.
“We’re finally beginning to see a little bit of change in the economy, which is very positive and we’re beginning to see the fruits of the creation of the Economic Development Council,” council CEO Robert Reynolds said.
Both Reynolds and Wilson credit the merging of the JCDA, the Economic Development Board and Public Building Authority as one of the major changes that led to the economic rebound in which the county is currently in the midst.
“When we were all separate entities, we created a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty is the enemy of investment,” he said. “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.”
In addition to seeing local companies like Mullican Flooring and Nakatetsu Machining Technologies announcing major expansion plans and projects like University Edge Apartments, East Tennessee State University’s Thomas Stadium and the opening of Fresh Market at Innovation Park Plaza, the county’s economic growth is moving faster than it has over the past several years.
And it’s not just growth in the far reaches of the county. Between the council’s downtown revitalization plan, the city’s efforts with the creation of Founders Park and Northeast State Community College’s move to the Downtown Centre and the opening of several small businesses, downtown Johnson City is beginning to see what area economic leaders hope is a resurgence in investments, jobs and retail.
“Jobs created downtown have an impact out in the county. Jobs created in the county have an impact with what’s going on in downtown,” Reynolds said.
Wilson is one of several owners who own residential property downtown. With the rise of interest in the downtown community, he said there are plans to create more residential space.
“We’re doing that primarily because of the work the Economic Development folks have done with getting Northeast State downtown. There’s just a lot of good things happening along those lines,” he said.
The growth in Washington County follows a trend that’s occurring across the state.
At the end of 2011, the county’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent — the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the state.
In January, Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent, which was the first time the state’s unemployment rate fell below the United States rate since November 2010.