An olive branch in regionalism

Johnson City Press • Oct 14, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Could regionalism finally be taking hold between Washington and Sullivan counties?

There’s a ray of hope in last week’s announcement that the two counties’ commissions planned to meet together Thursday to discuss possible areas of cooperation.

You’ve heard a lot about regionalism in recent months. For the first time, our business leaders in the Tri-Cities appear serious about fostering cooperation in economic development.

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman Andy Deitrich and his counterparts in Bristol and Kingsport have been leading conversations toward ending the counterproductive competitiveness between the cities and marketing the region as a whole to business and industry.

The concept is long overdue, as Northeast Tennessee needs progress beyond service-oriented growth with better paying jobs in technology and manufacturing, while capitalizing on the significant health care infrastructure already in place.

Regionalism should spill over into quality of life, as well, in such areas as recreation, entertainment, festivals and facilities. Along with education, tax structure and other factors, such amenities help draw business and industry to locations. We’ve already seen one highly visible effort toward that end in this summer’s Meet the Mountains Festival intended to draw attention to the outdoors opportunities available in Northeast Tennessee.

Meet the Mountains was coordinated by the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, a coalition of economic development agencies in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties. NetRep’s creation was the first real milestone in the regionalism effort.

Sullivan County, though, elected not to join NetRep, perhaps limiting the potential toward a common voice.

So it’s encouraging to see Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable working with newly elected Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy in bringing the two commissions together for an opening round of discussions.

“We’re just going to talk about some ideas that Joe and I have jointly come to,” Venable told our partners at the Kingsport Times News. “Nothing specific. But just generally how we can work together and with the business community to make things better for this whole region.”

Let’s hope this dialogue is productive and eventually brings the necessary specifics. Our cities, counties and their residence only stand to gain by working together.

Thursday’s meeting at the mezzanine of Tri-Cities Airport is open to the public. It starts at 5 p.m.

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