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Task force sets goals for regionalism

Robert Houk • Jan 24, 2019 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE  — Local officials believe regional cooperation on tourism, economic development and workforce promotion will require a lot of listening, as well as strategic planning.

Members of the newly appointed Blue Ribbon Task Force on Regionalism said Wednesday they want to make sure they are listening to the people who are in the know on those subjects.

The task force met at Tri-Cities Airport to form goals for its five action groups, and to propose names for potential members to those committees. Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy, who joined Sullivan County Richard Venable in creating the task force in December, said he and Venable’s role as co-chairmen was simple.

“Our plan today is to shut up and listen,” Grandy said.

Venable said most of the work of the task force would be conducted through the action groups.

“Research is going to be paramount,” he said.

The Sullivan County mayor gave task force members six months to make progress in the areas of:

• 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; and

• Product development and primary job attraction, which NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker told his colleagues were essential components to growing the region.

“The perception is that other areas are ahead of us on some of these things,” Walker said.

Washington County Commissioner Jodi Jones joined others on the task force — which includes city and county government officials, as well as Chamber of Commerce and economic development leaders from Sullivan and Washington counties — in suggesting some of the members of the action groups should go beyond the “usual” names.

“They will help us think outside the box,” she said.

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