I love baseball. I always have. It was a great vehicle to make me closer to both of my grandfathers. It kept me and my brothers out of trouble - for the most part - growing up. In high school, it helped give me an identity and taught me how to lead. But mostly, I love it for the men who have played it and made it so great and taught me so much along the way. One such hero of mine has always been longtime New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, who passed away last week; not so much for his greatness behind the plate and with the bat, but because of his colorful witty sayings and all the sayings that were attributed to him. After all, as he once said (allegedly), "I never said most of the things I said."
Many Yogiisms, as they've become known, might appear at first glance to be contradictory ramblings of a less-than-highly-educated jock. Upon close examination, however, there was a depth of wisdom in most everyone. And to this day I seldom have faced a situation in my professional or personal life that couldn't be made a little easier through a Yogi quote, a Roger Miller lyric, or an Andy Griffith Show episode.
"You can observe a lot by just watching"
Anyone observing the activities of NETWORKS the past couple of years has seen a very direct, pointed, targeted approach to economic development, one that emphasizes telling our story to key players in economic development, both internal and external. One of those vehicles has been our work with the Tennessee Economic Partnership, most notably through our Red Carpet Tour culminating in the Bristol Night Race. This year we held our second tour and hosted seven of the top site location consultant firms and four members of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD). We also received participation and much appreciated financial support from our electric utility partners TVA, AEP, and NETVRIDA.
Among the highlights of the event were a presentation at Eastman Chemical's world headquarters, an existing industry panel at the Kingsport Higher Education Center followed by a tour of the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), a higher education panel hosted by Tri-Cities Regional Airport and a tour of the Aerospace Park (along with photo ops at many of the NASCAR team planes), a visit to Robertson's Mellow Moon East Tennessee Distillery, and , of course, VIP treatment at Bristol Motor Speedway. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to the host venues, our tremendous speakers and guides, our highly dedicated and supportive elected leaders, and of course, our community partners at the City of Bristol, the City of Kingsport, and Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES). Mostly, though, I want to thank the best economic development staff with whom I have ever worked, the NETWORKS team of Brian Ritz, Dana Glenn, and the man who heads up this initiative, Michael Parker.
"You've got to be careful if you don't know where you're going because you might not get there"
Of course the Red Carpet Tour and other ventures with TEP all go toward our overall branding goal of establishing ourselves as Where Tennessee Begin Its Business Day. We continue to work with TEP and participate in inbound and outbound events. We have also finalized our plans as a major sponsor (along with Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville) at next winter's Site Selection Guild annual conference in Nashville. Only TNECD, TVA, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce (the host of the event) are at a higher level. This type of marketing activity is necessary if we are to be considered major economic development players among site selection consultants and our regional and state partners.
We also continue to raise our profile through our partnership with the Tri-Cities Regional Airport and its Aerospace Park. I will be joining Mark Canty of the airport at the NBAA annual conference next month. A special aeronautics edition of Expansion Solutions magazine will be distributed at that conference. In it will be an ad that was a joint venture with us and Aerospace Park. We haven't seen the article yet, of course, but we are hopeful to be a major part of that issue's editorial content as well. We've also recently used a NETWORKS consultant contact to set up meetings with leadership of specific companies that the airport believes are in or soon will be in expansion mode, based on its research. We are involving Richard Blevins, who oversees Northeast State Community College's Aviation Initiative, and he has proven already to be an incredible differentiating advantage for our team and our region.
And, of course, our lighted sign aimed at business travelers has been installed at the Tri-Cities Airport, strategically positioned right beside Eastman's sign and above directional signage to baggage claims and restrooms (the two most important pieces of information to me when I land anywhere).
These activities and strategies are all part of strategic plan, which was recently updated and approved by our Board of Directors. As the saying goes: plan your work and work your plan... wait a minute, Yogi didn't say that, so on we go...
"It was impossible to have a conversation; everybody was talking too much"
One thing I continue to observe at our Board of Directors meetings and in conversations in general is that our communications and direction grows stronger and stronger. It's a fantastic feeling to work among leadership that respects each other's views, ideas, and goals. And we always seem to land on solutions that work best for the county and region as a whole.
Earlier this year, we entered into a marketing agreement with the Hawkins County Industrial Board and the Phipps Bend Industrial Park, which took a great deal of open debating and consideration of many issues that are involved in such a meaningful change. At the end of it all, we came out a stronger organization (I know I came out a stronger economic development executive) and we are already seeing this partnership pay dividends in terms of more project leads and inquiries and a higher profile on the economic development stage. We've also dealt with some negotiation issues with various prospects, long-time asset planning, our marketing message, and how to best set our goals and measure our results. As we address these issues, we become better and better at understanding everyone's concerns - common and unique - and let our differences empower rather than weaken us.
"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore"
We continue to be good stewards of the tax payers' money. NETWORKS and the City of Bristol recently made the decision to share costs to complete the infrastructure in Partnership Park II, a truly necessary step, especially considering that this park is one of or Select Tennessee certified sites. That work is almost complete. In order to make the park more marketable by improving its "curb appeal," the Jacobs Creek Job Corps is finishing up its site improvement work on one tract and will soon be relocating to begin similar work further into the park.
We have also decided that a "virtual" or "dynamic" building program is a smarter route to take than spending a great deal of money on constructing a speculative building at this time. And finally, we are working with city officials at securing a grant to extend the road infrastructure in the park. (Hopefully, we'll have much more to report on that effort by the time the next newsletter rolls around.)
"The future ain't what it used to be"
In August, several members of the Work Ready Community Initiative's working committee attended training in Atlanta. Team members who participate included Tanya Foreman of Eastman, Carolyn Ferrell of Robinette, Kathy Pierce of the Workforce Investment Board, Mary Beth Oxendine Woodby of Northeast State Community, and Jeff McCord of Northeast State who serves as the initiative's chairman.
The committee continues to work towards becoming a Certified Work Ready Community, which, as McCord explains, "is kind of like a site certification for your workforce." While this program is still developing, a site location consultant panel at a recent Southern Economic Development Council (SEDC) meeting attended by NETWORKS agreed that eventually, communities with the certification and high company participation and high test results among job seekers will have a decided advantage in the recruitment process. The overarching benefit of the program, however, is a service to existing industries to make their hiring process more expedient and efficient.
"It ain't over until it's over"
Economic development is an on-going, long-term process. It's something you're never "done with," like law enforcement and education. Our work is constant, and not just in the branding and recruitment efforts. Our existing industry program - FIRST - is also a constant, with initiatives large and small; one significant service, a wages and benefits survey is in the latter stages of its initial run. Another such service, working with Mark Canty in promoting Foreign Trade Zone 204 and our US Customs Port, has also been a focal point in recent months and we hope to have some exciting news on that subject soon. And updating our website, social media, and other marketing and on-line presence is an on-going project by its very nature.
All of this work requires a great deal of commitment and dogged determination and the rest of the NETWORKS staff and I cannot adequately express our appreciation to our Board Members, community partners, and other stakeholders and supporters for their integral contributions to our mission. We try to approach our jobs with the same passion and work ethic as Yogi played throughout his Hall of Fame career in which he played in an amazing 14 World Series, on the winning end of 10 of them. It's not likely anyone in baseball or economic development will ever repeat that kind of success, but then again, it ain't over until it's over and in our profession, it's never over.