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Regional task force releases its economic findings

Staff reports • Jan 24, 2020 at 12:00 AM

A recent report from a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Regionalism says area leaders must work together to expand opportunities for young professionals if they hope to keep Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia growing.

During more than a year of work, the task force heard from economists and other experts who pointed out the problems for the region’s economy created by the loss of its top high school and college graduates, as well as stagnation coming from an overall graying of the community.

Members of the task force were appointed by Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy in late 2018. The group includes city and county government officials, as well as Chamber of Commerce and economic development leaders from Sullivan and Washington counties.

“Working together, we can position our region to continue to compete and succeed well into the future, and perhaps begin to bring home some of our best and brightest who have left for other regions with greater opportunity” Grandy said in a news release.

Venable and Grandy released a joint statement Thursday saying the findings are part of the work of five action groups appointed by the task force.

“We deeply appreciate the more than 70 community leaders from around the region who helped at some point in this process,” Venable said. “Many different topics have been considered as we studied entrepreneurial development, regional tourism marketing, existing business development, workforce development and primary job attraction.”

As a result of this work, Venable said the Sullivan County Commission and city of Kingsport have already voted to appropriate funds to match grant funding designated for a new entrepreneurial development and recruitment program.

He also said “conversations are continuing on how we expand the regional support and reach for entrepreneurial development, as well as how the First Tennessee Development District might expand beyond its historical scope to encompass the additional work identified by the Task Force Action Groups.” 

The FTDD governing board already includes all city, county and town mayors from an eight-county region of Northeast Tennessee.

“We know the days of chasing smokestacks are almost over,” Grandy said. “And we know our communities are stronger together. But we must forge ahead to develop the businesses already located here as well as recruiting new entrepreneurs to expand in our region.”

He said the region would need “to finish the work by putting the tools in place to capitalize on the region’s attractive quality of life and low cost of living.”

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