Developing blue ribbon ideas for regionalism

Robert Houk • Jul 14, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A Blue Ribbon Task Force on Regionalism is expected to release a report sometime in August identifying areas where local government, economic development and tourism leaders can pool their resources to benefit all of Northeast Tennessee.

Members of the task force were appointed by Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable late last year. The group includes city and county government officials, as well as Chamber of Commerce and economic development leaders from Sullivan and Washington counties.

Venable said the task force is looking at where the region can “marshal its resources” in areas such as tourism and workforce development.

“Some things might be ridiculously easy, and other things will be very difficult,” he said.

Getting Down To Work

Grandy said more than 60 people are involved with the task force and its various groups. He said the task force has had a “bit of a slower start” on its work than planned as a result of a delay in getting interns from the master of business management program at East Tennessee State University to help with research and information gathering.

Those two interns are now on the job, and Grandy said subcommittees of the task force are meeting regularly to complete their work. With each meeting, Venable said there has been “more meat added to the bone.” 

The task force was originally scheduled to have its work competed in June. 

“We expect to have a report ready by the third week in August,” Grandy said last week.

The Washington County mayor said he hopes the group will be able to make an in-depth report to a regional economic summit at ETSU on Sept. 10.

Pursuing Specific Goals

The task force met at Tri-Cities Airport in January to identify goals for regional cooperation. The group agreed to focus on the following areas:

• 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 members say are essential components to growing the region.

Venable said he has been “gratified to see the quality of the people” involved with the task force and its work.

“There are top-notch individuals who have agreed to participate,” he said.

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