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With $100k from Johnson City, chamber looks to retain young professionals

Mayor Joe Wise notes that Johnson City’s population has a distinguishable gap in the age range around 22-39.

That stays low until the population gets closer to retirement.

“We’re not opposed to any of the areas where we’re strong,” he said. “We would just like to keep people working and contributing and productive here where we can. This isn’t an imagined thing. This is ... a demonstrable thing.”

The city has budgeted $100,000 in the current fiscal year to support the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce’s new young professionals program, an initiative designed to retain and recruit people in the 22-39 age range.

On Nov. 4, the commission approved a memorandum of understanding with the Chamber, which lays out certain expectations connected to the city’s investment.

The agreement states that the Chamber must budget $200,000 for staffing and support. The organization will also provide bi-annual reports to city commissioners, one in January and the other in June.

As long as the city provides funding to the organization, the commission will also have one appointed representative serve on the Chamber’s board. They’re scheduled to consider that appointment during their regular meeting on Nov. 18.

The agreement will expire on June 30, but it can be extended.

David Floyd / By David Floyd Press Staff Writer dfloyd@johnsoncitypress.com 


What is the Chamber planning?

The Chamber will host a meet-and-greet for prospective members of its young professionals program on Tuesday, which the organization expects to draw 100 people. Events in November and December will serve as introductions to the program.

In January, the Chamber is planning a summit where leaders will invite young professionals to provide feedback on initiatives or projects they would like the program to adopt. Chamber CEO Bob Cantler said the meeting will allow the organization to fine-tune the program to ensure the Chamber’s plans and the members’ goals align.

The Chamber will introduce a membership fee for the program after Jan. 1. Cantler said members will have access to networking opportunities, personal development programs and exclusive events.

They may also be able to participate in “executive briefings” where members will meet community leaders such as politicians, local CEOs and school officials.

In the first year, the Chamber hopes to have 100 members enrolled in the young professionals program. The organization has not yet settled on the exact membership fee.

Chamber leaders have studied other young professionals programs in Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Charleston, South Carolina, to determine whether parts of those initiatives could fit in Johnson City.

The organization has also hired a director, McKenzie Templeton, to oversee the initiative. She started on Sept. 1.

By next year, Cantler said, the Chamber hopes to have a “critical mass” of members and the foundational elements of the program in place. That includes creating a website and developing an initiative called the “Coming Home” program, which will encourage people who originally grew up in Johnson City to consider moving back.

Why is Johnson City investing?

According to the results of the 2020 Census, Johnson City has witnessed a boost in its population over the last 10 years, growing 12.5% to 71,046 people.

Commissioner John Hunter points out that the availability of federal funds is tied to population growth, but there are other benefits to having a healthy workforce.

“If we’re going to grow organic businesses in this area and recruit other businesses, we need a qualified, educated workforce instead of sending them outside the region,” he said. “If we can engage these young adults as they’re graduating and growing in their profession and can tie them into the community, we’ve got a greater chance of success in keeping them here.”

Gaps in any segment of the population means the city is missing out on perks like new businesses or job creation, Wise said.

“We want people to live productive lives in Johnson City,” Wise said, “and so we don’t want to be producing great graduates at East Tennessee State University or Milligan University or any of the other local institutions to have them become our primary export.”

St. Mary's students helping conserve area's rainbow trout

Third-grade students at St. Mary’s School are helping conserve the area’s rainbow trout species through the Trout in the Classroom program, a unique learning experience that also teaches the students math, chemistry, life cycles and responsibility.

St. Mary’s teacher Taylor Burkette explains what Trout in the Classroom is all about.

What is Trout in the Classroom?

“The Trout in the Classroom program is facilitated by the Erwin Fish Hatchery and it is a hands-on learning conservation program,” Burkette said.

“Students raise rainbow trout from eggs to fry (the stage in their life cycle before they become adults). We get to see them go from eggs, to hatching into alevin, to beginning to swim as fry!

“One hundred eggs are delivered to the classroom to hatch and after hatching and taking some time to grow, all but 40 fish are removed. The final 40 will spend the year growing in our classroom.”

What does Trout in the Classroom teach students?

“The Trout in the Classroom program teaches students math (calculating the hatch date — we got ours exactly correct!), life cycles, chemistry, and most importantly, responsibility,” Burkette said. “Students play a huge part in the care of the fish. They are responsible for checking the tank and reporting any issues with the fish, watching for changes in the fish, assisting in testing the water chemistry to keep the fish healthy, and assisting in doing water changes when the water chemistry tells us it is needed.”

Why is this program important?

“Not only does this program give students a unique learning experience, it also helps conserve the rainbow trout species in our area,” Burkette said.

“The hatch rate for these fish in the wild is approximately 4 percent, due to predators and changes in the environment. The hatch rate in the classrooms is significantly higher — we had an 88 percent hatch rate in our class this year! This allows for a large, healthy group of rainbow trout to be added to the rivers in our area.”

East Tennessee State guard Ledarrius Brewer (25) looks to pass as he’s defended by Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler (1) during an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Knoxville, Tenn.

No. 18 Tennessee rolls over East Tennessee St 94-62

Johnson City police’s Shop With A Cop still seeking donations

As the holiday season approaches, numerous organizations are preparing to assist families in need, and in keeping with that tradition, the Johnson City Police Department will sponsor its annual Shop With A Cop program.

“The target this year is 65 kids,” Master Police Officer Brittney Eberhardt, one of the lead organizers, said, but added that SWAC wants to be prepared for additional children if necessary.

“If the families we accept have more kids we have a little wiggle room,” Eberhardt said.

The program changed a little this year, she said, to include a gift registry set up on the Wal-Mart website.

SWAC will also shake things up a little and start its evening of shopping at the Candyland display in Founders Park in downtown Johnson City.

“Downtown had been such a huge focus and the Christmas trees in Founders Park (so) the kids will walk through with officers and take a picture with Santa,” before the shopping trip, Eberhardt said.

Another change will be transportation for the kids to the Browns Mill Road Walmart. Usually the kids are treated to limousine rides, but Eberhardt said the trip with likely be on a city transit bus.

“We’ll be able to decorate the bus for the event,” as well as save the cost of transportation rental, she said.

The event is not only popular with kids who benefit from it, but police officers also get a lot of joy and fun by participating in the event, Eberhardt said. She got the desire to help others honestly — from her father, Bill Eberhardt.

“I got that from him,” she said. “He worked in parks and rec in Georgia and did all sorts of things for kids.” One of those things was to collect letters addressed to Santa and hand write notes to all of them and send them back.

Eberhardt said as for her part, she wants to spread the love she learned from her dad.

“Kids can’t always control where they come from,” she said. “They don’t get to decide if their parents get laid off or can’t work. They don’t understand why other kids are getting something and they’re not.

“We want to make sure it’s not a depressing time. Christmas is for kids and we want make sure they have that joy.”

SWAC is still accepting donations to help buy presents for this year’s kids. Checks should be made to the city of Johnson City with “Shop With A Cop” on the memo line. Mail checks to 601 E. Main St., Johnson City, TN 37604. The city will send donors a tax-deductible receipt.

The link to the Walmart registry to pre-purchase gifts is HTTPS://www.tinyurl.com/JCPDSWAC.

Holy Taco Cantina Boones Creek: Not your typical taco joint

Holy Taco Cantina has spawned another iteration of itself locally, in what was the formerly vacant “Our House” restaurant property in Boones Creek. Keeping the easily recognizable name, this version of Holy Taco Cantina is in one of the best spots on North Roan Street (also known as Tenn. Highway 36) to attract customers from all over the Tri-Cities.

First impressions

The newest Holy Taco Cantina can be found tucked off the side of North Roan Street in Boones Creek. Its location can be an issue for northbound travelers coming from Johnson City, who must make a tight turn left across two lanes of traffic. Holy Taco’s parking lot has two levels, the upper level, facing the front of the building, is asphalted. Additional parking is available around the left side of the restaurant and down a fairly steep grade to a lower, graveled lot.

Walking through Holy Taco’s front door finds you inside the building on the aged and yellowed pine main floor. There is a centrally-positioned staircase leading up to the second floor dining area, and down to a newly renovated and well-appointed bar. This bar can also be directly accessed from the lower parking lot.

Décor is best described as “Eighties Luchadore,” with several of the signature luchadore-style wrestling masks on display, along with some colorful imagery and crockery. Seating on the three floors of Holy Taco Cantina can accommodate 80 or so patrons. The kitchen area is on the lower level, with rest rooms accessible down a short hall just past the servers’ station.


After my dining partner and I were shown to our table, we experienced a 15-minute wait for service. A word on the subject to the hostess uncovered that our table had no server assigned to it.

Seeing me make a note of this, my dining partner suggested I remember that Holy Taco Cantina at this location had been open just three weeks. Her pointed suggestion that I “Cut ‘em some slack there, bud,” arrived simultaneously with our server, the very personable and newly-assigned Trieste who, pad in hand, took our lunch orders.

The menu for Holy Taco Boones Creek showed some changes, mostly due to location and some holdover effects from “Interesting Times.” My dining partner ordered the tamale platter ($11.99) being two cornhusk-wrapped tamales, one filled with beef and the other chicken, together with a side order of Holy Taco’s refried beans and one of their Mexican rice, along with some of Holy Taco’s fresh-as-can-be baked tortilla chips. I chose the breakfast burrito ($8) and an a la carte taco el camarone (“shrimp” to us Anglos) ($4.25). As they were currently out of unsweetened iced tea, my dining partner’s beverage was water, while I opted for a cola. Trieste had our orders arrived tableside in about 10 minutes, along with our drinks refills.

How it tastes

Though her beef tamale’s maseca (corn flour) was deep-fried just too long enough to render it somewhat dry and crumbly in texture, the flavor held within still retained its bouquet and taste. The chicken tamale was excellent in all respects, as was her side of refried beans, drizzled with some hot queso cheese. The rice, passable by itself, was better with some pico di gallo relish swirled through it.

My breakfast burrito was quite good, having a core of roasted pork shoulder nestled in with some scrambled eggs, some shredded (jack?) cheese and pico di gallo, all wrapped up in a dinner-sized flour tortilla. Adding a drizzle or two of Holy Taco’s Inferno sauce (Caution: Hot) increased my enjoyment level of the breakfast burrito by a factor of 10. I was especially pleased with the shrimp taco’s flavorful house marinade, and the way it matched with the cilantro cream sauce.

The bottom line

It appears that Holy Taco Cantina’s new location in Boones Creek is here to stay. As my dining partner and I were finishing up, Manager Paul Monroe stopped by our table to see how we were doing. In the course of our conversation on this, that and restaurant service scheduling, Monroe stated that his Boones Creek location was in the process of setting up a bandstand on the downstairs bar area, and that diners would soon have some live music to go with their tacos, drinks and such.

Yes, exciting times are in store for Holy Taco Cantina, all right.

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