Sullivan and Washington County Mayors Richard Venable and Joe Grandy are off and running with their Blue Ribbon Committee on Regional Cooperation which has developed into five action groups. The mayors charged the groups to come back in six months and report on their progress.
The groups are:
• Entrepreneurial development, which will cover opportunity zones, cooperative business models and a venture capital fund for the region.
• Existing business development, to include aerospace, financial services and advanced manufacturing.
• Workforce excellence and promotion, which will identify the region’s higher education assets, such as East Tennessee State University’s IT and digital programs.
• Tourism promotion, which will focus on a “linkage of existing assets” in the area. That includes expansion of Kingsport’s Greenbelt and Johnson City’s Tweetsie Trail.
• Product development and primary job attraction, which NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker told his colleagues were essential components to growing the region.
At some point there will also be a need to identify a permanent structure for managing regionalism and maximizing its potential, including how such an organization works and who will be involved in it.
Some of the members of the committee are public servants while others come largely from Chambers of Commerce and economic development. This is the core committee that we are confident will be reaching out to a broader business and industry base as visioning and execution requires.
The county mayors have done a good job in charging the task forces. But the charge of one group stands out for the potential it represents in moving our region forward. And that is tourism promotion and its untapped potential. We have a unique and beautifully rich history that is unrivaled. This was the gateway to the west through which passed tens of thousands. It was home to early pioneers like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. It tried to break away with the proposed State of Franklin and it was the site of Revolutionary and Civil War battles.
Historical assets are scattered throughout the region, but there has never been a serious attempt to bring them all under one roof for promotional and tourism purposes. It represents great economic potential and this process can help the entire region realize that potential.