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Johnson City celebrates 150 years of business and industry

W. Kenneth Medley II • Mar 21, 2019 at 12:08 AM

The Johnson City business community invited the public to a Business and Industry Showcase at the Carnegie Hotel Wednesday to celebrate 150 years of business in Johnson City, and to shine a little light on the future.

The history of Johnson City is that of a transportation thruway to an expanding country during the late 1790s. The unincorporated town carried different names before becoming Johnson City at its incorporation in 1869, during post-Civil War Reconstruction. Since this time businesses have come and gone, but the small city has remained.

“We have 150 years of business history here and looking forward to the next 50 years,” said Jeff Derby, chairman of the Business and Industry Showcase Planning Committee. “It was an amazing effort from our committee trying to connect with these local businesses and show the history of our community, the last 150 years. Then looking forward with some of the startups.”

During 2019 each month has been given a theme to celebrate, with this month focusing on business and industry. Members of the Sesquicentennial Commission felt this month’s theme made it the perfect moment to showcase the vendors, according to Jenna Moore, member of planning committee.

Moore highlighted the success of the event, during an interview, saying that there were 150 to 175 attendees during a morning session. The goal of the event was for the public to take away a better understanding of the diverse businesses within Johnson City. This was to be accomplished by 30 vendors displaying various aspects and histories of their companies.

“You cannot tell Johnson City’s business story with 30 vendors,” said Moore, “but you have things like the Model Mill that was built circa 1909, and you see now in 2019 there is this huge effort underway to revitalize it, and get this multi-use space to have different people occupying that space.”

Among the food and drinks provided by local businesses were displays from manufacturers, educators, tech startups, restaurants and breweries.

General Shale is a company that has been in business for 90 years in the region, according to David Tester, an outside sales representative, at the showcase. The company manufactures brick, block, retaining walls, and thin brick for household applications.

Tester said that it was important for General Shale to participate in the event because Johnson City is home to the company. He went on to say the company wants to support anything to do with Johnson City because of the history the company has in the region. Tester said that the company tries to support local business and source raw materials from the region or in state.

“We have had a great turnout,” said Tester. “There have been a lot of new faces I haven’t seen with the Chamber (of Commerce). There have been a lot people who have shown interest in our products that didn’t know exactly what we did.”

The sentiment of not knowing exactly what is manufactured in the region is one not lost on event organizers.

Moore cited her own lack of knowledge as part of the reason for the idea for the event. She is not native to the region and did not understand the impact of manufacturing.

“I am not from here,” Moore explained, “and until I took the Chamber Leadership Class I felt like I didn’t have a complete view of the business community. I was naive to the diversity of manufacturing here. Examples are Katz Americas with their coasters that they distribute all over the country, or General Shale and Dr. Enuf. I didn’t realize all the things that are made in Johnson City until I took that course. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to educate the public on some of those things.”

Derby said that this event was a great time to shine a light on some businesses that might otherwise go unnoticed. He highlighted the amount of activity that is occurring in the region. He expressed beliefs that Johnson City goes unnoticed because it is a “small-little town” in Northeast Tennessee.

“I think that it has really put a spotlight on local businesses and consumers,” said Derby, “and the history that we have from Tri-Cities Beverage to TPI (Corporation). TPI started out in a garage on Springbrook Drive, and now they are a major manufacturer throughout the world. All of those wonderful stories that connect Johnson City to a global market, it is really about that.”

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