Hosted by the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest addressed a full room of local business representatives, government leaders and economic development officials at the Millennium Center.
While each leader addressed topics unique to their own constituency, the need to rectify the declining population of Northeast Tennessee and encourage more regional collaboration were themes inserted into all three speeches.
Brock’s presentation was the longest. She started it with an introductory video that made it seem like she was riding off Tannery Knobs Bike Park, through downtown and to the Millennium Center, before the video stopped, she opened the doors and made her way to the stage.
As the others did, Brock said the state of Johnson City was strong. The city made a variety of investments in outdoor recreation, business development and infrastructure over the last year, she said.
“We’ve done a lot of infrastructure projects that really have improved traffic flow and eliminated a lot of traffic congestion in certain intersections around the city,” the mayor said.
“I think on the one side, we have so many attributes here in Johnson City and our region. We need to leverage those more to help promote growth. We’re at less than 1.5% growth (and) those numbers are questionable, I think, but we need 3% to 5% growth.
“So everything that we’re doing, we need to use everything that we have. We can’t leave any stone unturned that we can use to promote growth.”
Another challenge the city is facing, according to Brock, is stagnant sales tax collections. City commissioners are currently constructing a budget based on flat tax revenues.
In his speech, Grandy ran through a list of projects the county has undertaken in the last year, including renovating the old Jonesborough courthouse; building the new Boones Creek K-8; expanding municipal water to rural residents and broadband expansion led by BrightRidge.
Grandy said citizens can expect an announcement next week regarding a German manufacturing company locating to the Washington County Industrial Park in Telford and creating 179 jobs.
“There are so many positive things going on, it’s hard to talk about the challenges, but we have to. We have to face the reality of declining growth rates across the region, which is devastating really,” Grandy told the Johnson City Press following his speech.
“It’s completely unsustainable. It’s important that we understand and focus on it. What we have put in place are some things, I think, that are going to change the tide. If we can work cooperatively across the region, the rising tides are going to raise all ships.”
Of all three governments, Vest was most eager to talk about his town’s growing revenues with its sales tax collections up by more than 6%, he said.
“I think we’ve seen some growth, certainly on the 11-E bypass. We’ve had some new businesses open there, like the Dollar Tree, and Lowe’s continues to get some age behind it. So you’re generating more revenue out of our 11-E corridor,” Vest said.
“Really, we’ve finally got some good vibrancy and some stability in our downtown area. So I think that combination of good businesses with great town promotions has led to the sales tax growth.”
When it came to concerns, Vest said the negative perception enveloping Jonesborough schools needs to be improved.
“The teachers inside our schools are outstanding, and the education I think we’re producing in there for our kids is outstanding. But in Jonesborough, we are growing economically and attracting new families. We have new homes being built, and a lot of people here moving into the area see the outside (of the school system). They don’t see what’s inside,” Vest said.
“So the perception there in Jonesborough is that our system is not quite as good as others, and a person could choose to live elsewhere because of that. So we hope we can work together to change that perception.”