Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, left, and Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy before a “historic” joint session of the Sullivan and Washington county commissions at Tri-Cities Airport in August 2018. The meeting led the two to appoint a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Regionalism.
Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy says a pending vote by the Sullivan County Commission that seeks to block that board’s membership in a new regional economic development organization will not impact his county’s stated economic development goals.
“Regardless of what happens, Washington County is in a position to move forward and be a leader in economic development in the region,” Grandy said.
Sullivan County commissioners are being asked to vote on a resolution at their meeting Thursday night to “deny steps” relative to the commission’s membership in or financial support of NETNHUB, a public/private economic development organization that encompasses all of Northeast Tennessee.
NETNHUB involves a merger of what was formerly the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (covering Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties) and NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership. The new entity includes the eight counties in Northeast Tennessee that make up the First Tennessee Development District.
The Sullivan County Commission’s resolution states that the board “ … hereby fully and clearly denies any inclusionary steps within any regionalism framework or any related naming that inserts Sullivan County as a member therein and forevermore shall remain unchanged and absent from any direct engagement with regionalism ideas manifest therein.”
Grandy said he hopes Sullivan County commissioners will defer a vote on the resolution until they have learned more about the impact that NETNHUB will have on economic development in their county and the entire region.
“I really feel they will be able to make a better decision once they have all the information,” Grandy said. “Sullivan County is already participating in regionalism with funding for the Aerospace Park at the Tri-Cities Airport and the Northeast Tennessee Regional Recovery Center in Roan Mountain.”
The Washington County mayor believes NETHUB provides the region “with a much larger platform” for attracting new businesses and industry to the area. He also said Washington County has already made revisions to its economic development structure as a result of NETREP being folded into NETNHUB.
Washington County commissioners voted in December to approve a resolution making specific changes to an intergovernmental agreement it has with the city of Johnson City and the town of Jonesborough regarding the structure of the Washington County Economic Development Council. That council is the official state-recognized economic development entity for Washington County.
One of the changes to the WCEDC, which serves as the conduit for state economic development grant funding, allows the County Commission to appoint two members to the council.
Alicia Summers, who formerly served as vice president of industrial development for NETREP and was hired as Johnson City’s economic development director in August, is also serving as the WCEDC’s executive director.