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In its third year, NETREP regional partnership producing positive results

Zach Vance • Mar 16, 2019 at 8:35 PM

In its third year, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership is fulfilling its objective to coordinate economic development efforts among Washington, Unicoi and Carter counties and beyond. 

But more importantly, those efforts are yielding results.

Whether it’s promoting the region’s outdoor amenities under one umbrella, assisting entrepreneurs in starting their own business or facilitating the expansion of an industrial manufacturer, NETREP CEO Mitch Miller said his organization is working all fronts to amplify economic activity in the region. 

Statistically speaking, Miller said the success of NETREP can be depicted in the $92 million worth of wages added to the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area since 2016. He also points to the 3,080 jobs added to the metro area since 2016, and the 1.4 percent reduction in the metro area’s unemployment rate.

Specifically, NETREP assisted A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Co. in applying for state incentives when it decided to pursue an $8 million, 100,000 square-foot expansion of its Elizabethton operation. 

“They were considering opportunities to expand so it was a way for us to help them on state incentives (and) really look at ways to help them add additional square footage. The state really came in big and provided some great incentives to make that project a reality,” Miller said. 

That project is expected to create 33 additional jobs at A.Y. McDonald, but Miller said the benefit of the project goes beyond that. 

“Well, construction workers are building that $8 million, 100,000 square-foot expansion. When those jobs are fully filled, those folks are going to eat. They’re going to go out. They’re going to look at maybe buying a house,” Miller said. 

“So the spinoff from that has been great, and I think that’s the idea behind NETREP when you really look at the big scheme of it. Initially, we did start as just Washington County. We understand that Washington County’s success can lead to success in other counties. So we wanted to really get into Carter and Unicoi (counties) as a start, and say, ‘Let’s focus on our metro, let’s see how we can all work together.’ ”

For all three counties represented by NETREP, Miller said one of his organization’s main goals is to create an experience and environment that will breed economic success, and entrepreneurship is a huge part of that.

To assist local entrepreneurs, NETREP helped bring the CO.STARTERS program, a nine-week class for entrepreneurs to learn about the makings of a successful business, to Johnson City and eventually expand its reach to Elizabethton and Erwin. 

Among the graduates from that class are downtown Johnson City businesses Barley Waters and Boomtown, as well Erwin’s What’s the Scoop ice cream shop and Elizabethton’s Riverside Taphouse. 

“They all received some support to get up and running, but what was really cool, between some of those businesses, they began marketing together. They share stories together. They talk about challenges (and) problems together. So you’re creating an environment where entrepreneurs now have a resource,” Miller said. 

“If we can be part of that resource to bring people together, that’s building a community.”

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