Community Stakeholders Report 
Quarter Three - 2019
From the Desk of the CEO

Let's Give Them Something to Talk About (and Act On)

After months of debating the broader merits of regionalism as well as many of the details, both large and small, a jumping off point designed to move the conversations toward action has finally seen the light of day. Where we go from here is anybody's guess

For Northeast Tennessee folks, it would be hard to open a newspaper, turn on a local newscast, or even glance through the social media platform of your preference and not notice an overwhelming amount of content devoted to regionalism. The word itself has been parsed, dissected, debated, worshiped, and vilified as we have struggled with the best path forward in search of a better way to advance our region. The topic has also been given many contexts, but most of the discussion has focused on one or more discipline of economic development (speaking of broad, open-ended terms). Primary job attraction, retention and expansion programs, tourism, community development, housing, healthcare, public policy, retail attraction, workforce development, metro government, county consolidation... stop me when I touch on something that hasn't been debated at any one of the half dozen or so groups that have taken on this mission. There's enough material for at least two verses of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."
A couple of weeks ago, a white paper was made public as it was distributed in the information given to the Bristol City Council prior to my updating members at their work session; it was the third stop in as many weeks as I met with the four charter partners of   NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership - Bluff City, Bristol, Kingsport, and Sullivan County - to let them know what our vision and activities had been on this subject. While still a working document, the paper's release into public conversation is a good thing in my opinion.
Quick timeout here! Before reading further, if you haven't read the article about the paper in the Tri-Cities Business Journal or the paper itself, please click here. Scott Robertson provides an excellent summation and his article links to the paper and its supporting documentation as well. You can continue reading without this background knowledge, but it will not have the same meaning and depth. If this topic doesn't interest you (or if you're just a little weary of all the attention that it has received lately), feel free to skip ahead to the content with the subtitle "So, What Else Have We Been Up To?" This certainly won't be the last time we discuss regionalism.
Okay, so you're back. Now, please allow me to clarify a few points based on conversations we have had with would-be partners over the past months as we all work toward the best path forward for our region:
  • The intent of the "plan" is not to be an end-all, be-all solution. If that were the case, we wouldn't be very regional in our thinking. The paper and the work and research behind it were intended, as stated earlier, as a "jumping off point." With nobody actually having a plan for consideration, we saw the need to get some real meat on the table so we can begin to move from philosophical, hypothetical discussions and begin to build the frame work of whatever we can build together (with the key word being begin).
  • To that point, and I can't stress this strongly enough, not even the NETWORKS Board of Directors has agreed that all, most, or any part of this plan should go forward, let alone be put into action. We do all agree in continuous improvement and the exploration of ideas that will improve our effectiveness and, thus, the quality of life for our residents and the culture for our business community. We do feel an optimal pathway is within our reach - or we would not be putting so much time and effort into this endeavor - and we will get there together with our investors and regional partners.
  • Much has been said about when and why this plan came about. Without getting into the particulars here, it's kind of been going on for the past four years or so as NETWORKS expanded our footprint to market and recruit for property in Hawkins County and the  Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NeTREP) was born from the Washington County EDC to include Unicoi and Carter counties. It gained significant steam after our Board's strategic planning retreat in June of 2018. I think people would be surprised at how often we work alongside NeTREP and other communities in Tennessee; we collaborate far more than we compete, but that doesn't seem to make the news very often. Safe to say, the search for improved partnerships has been going on for a while now.
  • Mitch Miller and NeTREP's involvement has been a vital part of this. Although we were the ones to initially put pencil to paper, as it were, I met with Mitch, the CEO of NeTREP, nearly a year ago and shared the paper as it stood at the time. At my request, Mitch reviewed it and recommended some changes, all of which made it a much stronger plan. Upon making those changes we shared the paper and began meeting with our respective Boards' designees to work through the details and explore other ideas and issues.
  • NETWORKS and NeTREP each voted in September to enter into an  agreement - a pledge, if you will - to continue to work in earnest on the exploration of new ideas for collaboration. Much of the focus has been on a line item in that agreement regarding a potential merger. Actually, although I'm just as guilty as the next person at using this term, the concepts discussed, including our own white paper, are not so much of a merger as they are combining to form a new organization. This might seem like splitting hairs, but it is actually a significant distinction.
  • It has also been implied if not out and out stated by some local media outlets that some of the examples in this agreement of how we will continue working together are corrections of previous behaviors, such as that we will not poach or incentivize companies to move from one county to the next in our region. We don't do this now, despite some news reports saying that we will quit poaching from one another. When companies from within our region (or anywhere in Tennessee) tell us that they are in need of finding a location within the communities we represent, our standard procedure is to communicate that with our counterpart where the company is currently located, whether it be a relocation or an additional facility.
  • Much debate has occurred concerning what our region is geographically. It is obviously an important, necessary element to establish, but too much time dwelling on the boundaries of a region takes away from the real strength of regional economic development. The power behind regionalism isn't what your region is, but the effectiveness, wisdom, creativity, and genuine partnerships that occur within a true collaborative effort; it's more about how to go about working together than anything else.
  • Some have reviewed the paper and commented that it's not a complete plan at all as it just grazes some of the key subjects, such as tourism, entrepreneurism, how to involve other organizations such as NETTA and many of the chambers of commerce's departments that would most certainly be impacted (and thus need to be involved in determining how each organization should work within a new framework; obviously, they would be). This observation is true, but it is also deliberate for two primary reasons: we try to stay in our lane at NETWORKS and these subjects are really other people's lanes and, perhaps most importantly, we want this paper to be just the beginning and these holes that need filling present meaningful opportunities for others to participate and contribute.
So that's the crux of the matter, although I'm sure as soon as we hit "send" on this newsletter, someone here at the office will think of something else we should have mentioned. That's okay though. There will be time for that as we move forward, as we hear others' ideas. I'm not sure where it will end up, because if done properly, regionalism is the sum of all of us which is very unpredictable, but certainly promising. And that is what makes this so exciting!
So, What Else Have We Been Up To?

While some days this significant crossroads we face consumes most of our time, the NETWORKS staff and Board and our partners have been quite busy with other things over the past quarter.
Congratulations to Tri-Cities Airport on the announcement of the flights to Dallas-Fort Worth in July. Those flights began in September. Kudos to Executive Director Gene Cossey, Director of Marketing and Air Service Development Kristi Haulsee, and the entire TRI team. The airport is an incredible economic development asset, even beyond Aerospace Park, which is shaping up beautifully under the watchful eyes of Gene, as well as David Jones and Mark Canty. It is also an economic engine, providing preferred jobs and a major lift to the region in bringing in sales tax from all over the world - what we refer to in economic development as OPM, Other People's Money.
We are in the wake of another successful Northeast Tennessee Red Carpet Tour, having brought in 10 site location consultants from across the country (with two aerospace-focused consultants) for three days of learning about our business culture and extraordinary quality of life. Thanks so much to our partners across the county and region without whom we could not possibly host this level of event, with a special shout-out to Bristol Motor Speedway for its generosity and for hosting the greatest race on the NASCAR circuit. And how great was it to see that crowd of more than 100,000 fans!
Speaking of our quality of life here in Northeast Tennessee, what a past couple of months we have enjoyed. Besides the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at BMS, we held the World Long Drive Competition, Rhythm and Roots Reunion, and Fun Fest. It is amazing to think about the incredible events we have here, and those listed are just the ones in Sullivan County! NETWORKS was proud to be one of many sponsors of the Meet the Mountains Festival, hosted in Johnson City by NeTREP. I could not have been more impressed by the job the NeTREP team did the weekend immediately following the Night Race and was proud to be a small part of it.
Congratulations to staff and partners who were recognized for their outstanding work in various ways recently. Carolyn Ferrell, Immediate Past Chairman of NETWORKS, was named the Volunteer of the Year at the Tennessee Economic Development Council fall meeting in Franklin in September. Our Ronnie Price was also honored by TEDC as a recipient of the Lifetime Member Award. I pulled double duty while in Middle Tennessee, driving back and forth from TEDC to downtown Nashville for the Southern Automotive Conference in partnership with the Tennessee Economic Partnership (TEP) and was honored to be named our region's representative on the TEDC Board of Directors.
Under the leadership of Alicia Phelps, the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association ( NETTA), was named the Destination Marketing Organization of the Year by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. The THTA also named Kingsport CVB Director Jud Teague its Tourism Professional of the Year. And Kingsport Chamber CEO Miles Burdine celebrated 25 years at the chamber.
More details about other activities are available in the stories below. I believe all of this activity and work to be done provides evidence of our need for efficiencies at every corner. We will continue to search for every advantage through innovation, creativity, hard work, and, yes, collaboration and partnerships. It is what the folks deserve who are fortunate enough to reside Where Tennessee Begins Its Business Day!
Upcoming Meetings
Executive Committee Meeting

November 13, 2019

Northeast State Community College
Library - Room L106

Other Highlights

2019 Northeast Tennessee Red Carpet Tour

The sixth annual Northeast Tennessee Red Carpet Tour took place August 15-17 and hosted 10 consultants, including three from firms not previously represented.  Consultants, regional economic development partners, TNECD, and utility representatives were given an elite experience of Where Tennessee Begins Its Business Day, complete with a visit to Eastman, tour of RCAM, existing industry panel, ride on the Kingsport Carousel, songwriter's night at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and VIP treatment at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Click here to view the event recap!
TRI Celebrates Dallas Flights
As of September 4, direct flights from Tri-Cities Airport to Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport are now an option! The flights are serviced by American Airlines, with two direct flights available every day of the year. This new service offers customers 84 additional one stop routes that were not previously available from TRI, including the West Coast and Asia.  Click here to learn more.
Governor Lee Attends Regional Economic Forum

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee attended the Regional Economic Forum, which occurred in September at the Millennium Center.  He commented on the strength of the assets in the region and the power of a unified voice.  Click here to read more about the forum.
NETWORKS, NeTREP Approach to Regional Economic Development

A draft white paper authored by NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker, in collaboration with NeTREP CEO Mitch Miller, was recently shared with the public at a Bristol, Tennessee city council work session.  The 25 page document is entitled "The Right Time for the Right Organization".  Click here to read more and view the draft document in its entirety.  
NETWORKS's Staff, Board Honored by TEDC

Three members of the NETWORKS team were honored by the Tennessee Economic Development Council (TEDC) at its Annual Awards event in Franklin.

Carolyn Ferrell, Vice President of HR and Community Relations for The Robinette Company, and past NETWORKS Board Chairman, received the 2019 TEDC Volunteer of the Year Award.  Carolyn currently serves as the NETWORKS Immediate President after six years of service on the Board's leadership team and has served on numerous other organizations' leadership teams over the years.

Ronnie Price, 
NETWORKS Economic Development Specialist received the Lifetime Member Award in celebration of 36+ years in the economic development.  Before joining the NETWORKS team, Ronnie spent 13 years as CEO of the Weakley County Economic Development Board and 23 years as the Industrial Developer for the Hawkins County Industrial Development Board. 

Clay Walker,
NETWORKS CEO, was appointed as the East Tennessee Director of the TEDC Board of Directors.  TEDC is a statewide, non-profit organization created to unite the efforts of its members in furthering industrial development in the state of Tennessee.
Partners Honored

Exciting things continue to happen Where Tennessee Begins Its Business Day.  Congratulations to our partners and friends on their recent accomplishments!
  • Jon Luttrell was promoted to Director of Community Relations at the City of Bristol
  • Mark Canty passed the American Association of Airport Executives certification
  • Jud Teague was named Tourism Professional of the Year
  • NETTA was named Organization of the Year
  • Dwaine Raper was promoted to Director of Manufacturing Extension at UTCIS
  • Miles Burdine celebrated 25 years with the Kingsport Chamber
  • TVA was named a top utility for economic development for the 14th straight year
  • John Bradley was named TEDC Professional of the Year