Sowing the seeds of regional economic development

Robert Houk • Mar 12, 2018 at 1:42 PM

The chairman of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership believes communication between economic officials and government leaders has improved greatly in the region, which in turn has helped projects like Tri-City Airport’s Aerospace Park take flight.

Ron Scott, the CEO and president of Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union, also said recently NETREP — which is an economic development organization that encompasses Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties — plans to build on that success in the coming months.

“Everybody must be involved in the game plan,” Scott said.

NETREP’s action plan for the year notes that economic development in Northeast Tennessee depends on both cities and rural communities in the region. The organization has set a goal to bring both public and private groups together to address communication challenges.

That means tackling the the “Friday Night Football” mentality of rivalries between cities and counties.

“When I moved to this region, I had no idea that Johnson City and Kingsport where two separate places,” Scott said. “I thought it was just one cool place. As a region, we need to understand that rivers and hiking trails don’t know when one county starts and another begins.”

By joining hands on joint economic development projects and outdoor festivals, Scott said the region has become better positioned to lure “talent” (in the form of young professionals) to Northeast Tennessee.

“Forty or 50 years ago, people moved to an area to take a job,” he said. “Today, many people move to an area they want to live and then worry about finding a job.”

Mitch Miller, the chief executive officer of NETREP, said his organization will be using the natural assets of the mountains, rivers and streams to attract people to the region. He said that is why NETREP will be hosting the Meet the Mountain Festival, Aug. 24 and 25, with events scheduled in Elizabethton, Erwin and downtown Johnson City.

“The outdoor activities our region offer can’t be replicated in areas like Charlotte, Nashville or Atlanta,” Miller said.

Other goals for NETREP this year include:

• Helping existing businesses find the skilled labor they need.

• Continuing efforts to identify and purchase land for industrial development. Economic development officials expect to soon close deals on property to ad a combined 30 acres of pad-ready sites in Aerospace Park, the Washington County Industrial Park and Morgan Insulation.

• Working to redevelop or repurpose existing buildings and sites for economic development.

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