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Putting the economic development puzzle together

Johnson City Press • Jul 16, 2018 at 10:13 AM

Economic development is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. To be successful, all the parts must fit.

Identifying the individual pieces is an important part to completing the puzzle. In recent years, economic leaders have concentrated on two key pieces of the economic development puzzle — providing the land and infrastructure needed to lure potential employers to our region and preparing a work force with the skills needed to do the jobs these employers demand.

Having a key piece of the economic puzzle — available land and infrastructure — enabled Washington County to lure two Japanese companies to our region more than a decade ago. However, in the new digital world of economic development, local officials have had no time to rest on their laurels.

In addition to finding land for economic development, local leaders must be willing to spend the money for infrastructure. That includes building new roads and improving existing ones. With construction costs rising and state highway funds becoming even more limited, it has been necessary for local governments to help fund key improvements in Boones Creek and Gray.

Another essential part of the economic development puzzle is making sure students are graduating high school with the skills they need to compete in the job market. A work force that is not prepared to take on real life situations, such as dealing with personal finances or meeting work deadlines, does not inspire confidence in potential employers.

It is also essential that local leaders continue to streamline the way they assemble these pieces of the economic puzzle. That will require changing the way economic development players relate to local businesses, local governments and to each other.

The Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership was created to help put these important pieces of the puzzles together in Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties to create a coherent economic development strategy. Recent announcements regarding businesses expanding in Elizabethton and relocating to Erwin show the NETREP model is working.

And we should not forget the Tweetsie Trail serves as a testament to what can be accomplished when local governments and dedicated citizens join together for a common cause. The walking/biking trail between Johnson City and Elizabethton was developed through a public/private partnership.

Other public/private projects have taken root in Johnson City, such as the mountain bike park on Tannery Knobs, which promises to be a game changer for recreational tourism and economic development in the downtown area.

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