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Q&A with Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bob Feathers

Zach Vance • Jul 15, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Bob Feathers is president of Workspace Interiors Inc., and owner of East Coast Wings & Grill. Feathers has been actively involved in a number of community organizations, including the Kingsport Economic Development Board and the Smyth County Community Hospital Board of Directors.

In 2017, Feathers was selected to serve as chairman of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Foundation Board of Directors.

Here are his thoughts about more regional cooperation among the Tri-Cities:

Q: What does regional cooperation mean to you?

A: The business community at large recognizes that “we” are much more competitive as a unified commonly marketed region that supports a common brand and vision to grow our economic base evidenced by the support voiced from Eastman, Bank of Tennessee, Ballad, Bristol Motor Speedway, ETSU, and others. Our civic leadership, in response to the business community demands, support the adopted regional approach and common efforts to grow the economic base – minimize duplicate tax payer funded investments to provide underutilized amenities, duplicate and competing venues and events, and service organizations.

Q: How do you put that into action in light of the competitive world of economic development?

A: The business community adopts a common brand/theme defining our region, focuses on common interests (outdoor recreation, natural environment, medical, supporting industries to our existing major employers, etc.), and lead our economic development organizations and civic leaders in supporting identified economic opportunities collectively. We must recognize and accept a long term strategy that shared investment in economic development opportunities will result in a gain for the region as a whole. Marginal gains and losses in sales tax revenue is not a long term strategy and one that is obviously working for any part of the region.

Q: Is having two distinct metropolitan statistical areas for our region a help or hindrance when it comes to regionalism and economic development?

A: It certainly is not a positive as it perpetuates the continued sales tax based competition our communities battle today. As John Speropulos has expressed in his blog and in publication, a single MSA makes sense in light of commuter, spend, and entertainment patterns that exist today. A single MSA supports the focus that the business community is clearly demanding.

Q: How do the local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations keep the lines of communication open?

A: We are fortunate in that we have chamber executives that are supportive of and promote their collective membership. For many years, more visibly this past year, the chambers have been cooperative regularly meeting as a collective group. Politically, we have championed much of the same legislative issues. We have jointly marketed and supported tourism and entertainment. Most recently, the chambers and economic development organizations have very publicly supported regional efforts that are major “wins”, Aerospace Park and the successful merger creating Ballad Health. These organizations have and continue to support open communication between each as evidenced by participation in the discussions being held today. It is important to note that our discussions will continue to add stakeholders each meeting which are tentatively scheduled monthly.

Q: What is the one thing you think could be a game changer for our region?

A: It is important to have an early collective win in this journey. The MSA initiative could/should be one of those that allows a common brand. The development of Aerospace Park could. The Ballad Health system is and will continue to be even more of regional play as it matures into the health system envisioned. Simplistically, a game changer could be the acknowledgement by our individual community leaders to adopt, support and promote a regional identity - one that embraces the entire region while celebrating the individual identities of the small communities it is home to.

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