At any point during my remarks, please stop me if you sense I'm on my way to breaking this vow: I am not going to let this Newsletter or even my remarks at its beginning be another COVID piece. That being said, not only is it impossible to ignore our current pandemic crisis, it is fair to say that not even this world-wide calamity can or should halt progress where progress can still be made. Neither our team, nor Northeast Tennessee's culture will give in to a challenge, no matter its nature or difficulty.
We cannot ignore this threat and are taking precautions as recommended by our federal, state, and county officials as well as taking into account our staff's needs and concerns. NETWORKS remains "open" with most of the staff working from home. I come into the office daily, although my hours here vary as I am working more from home as well. The rest of the staff come in as needed for projects and when we have multiple people in the building, we are careful to keep at safe distances, which usually means staying in our respective offices. When we need to be in the same room, we spread out as much as possible.
Like most of you, we are having more conference calls and on-line meetings (if any of you owned Zoom stock three weeks ago, I'd prefer not to hear about it) and adjusting to this new way of doing business. We are following all of the relief programs and getting that information to our existing industry at least once each week through our Constant Contact distribution list. (The first such correspondence included our contact information including my cell phone number.) We are also coordinating with our partners in contacting our major employers and manufacturers individually so as not to bother them unnecessarily as they cope with the unique challenge COVID-19 is creating for them.
A couple of weeks ago, I texted our chamber of commerce partners and NeTREP CEO Mitch Miller to organize a conference call to coordinate our efforts. Mitch has shared with me his idea to help small businesses our with a website to post their adjusted hours and business practices to keep their staff and customers safe. When he shared the idea with our chamber CEOs, we decided to do it on a regional basis which quickly became the website regionAHEAD.com. Please check it out and if you have a business with news you would like to post, I think you'll find it very user friendly. Also, please patronize those businesses on the site the best you can.
And, please, thank the merchants, delivery drivers, police and fire personnel and other first responders, and the doctors, nurses, and medical support staff dealing with and protecting us from this terrible enemy. I can't adequately express my personal appreciation for their work - for hearing and heeding this calling - but I truly hope they know how grateful we are that they are putting themselves in harm's way so that the rest of us can stay safe and healthy.
Don't hesitate to let me know if my staff or I can help as you deal with COVID-19. Remember, we're all in this together... but stay apart. Y'all know what I mean. Please stay safe and well so that we can all see each other at the other side of this thing.
Now to All of the Other Stuff...
In this issue of our Newsletter, you'll find lots of information about how some of our businesses and partners are pitching in to help us through the pandemic. Abby Mease has done a great job of gathering these stories that are nothing short of inspirational.
Before our lives were all put in the middle of this surreal state of being, our staff and partners had been quite busy. Here are the highlights of what was going on before COVID-19 changed all of our schedules:
- In January, at the invitation of Bristol Motor Speedway, I went to Nashville for a reception celebrating the opening of the 11th General Assembly and thanking legislators for their service. The event was sponsored by BMS, AT&T, Vanderbilt University, Southwest Airlines.
- A few days late, Tri-Cities Airport Executive Director Gene Cossey asked that I participate with him and Director of Business Development Mark Canty on a tour of Aerospace Park for local and regional partners and economic developers who are not as engaged with the effort, but who certainly are supporters of the airport and the park.
- Speaking of Aerospace Park, Mark represented the park and the region at this year's HeliExpo in Atlanta the end of January; this is the world's largest helicopter show
- One of the more impressive programs I have seen in my career is BTES's Teacher Industry Day - in fact, you might recall that it won an IEDC Gold Award at that organizations annual meeting last fall. April Eads has done a great job in growing this effort that pairs a high school teacher with a major employer for a better understanding of the skills needs our area industry has. Board Member Carolyn Ferrell among the speakers at the kickoff breakfast at BMS.
- NETWORKS was proud to co-sponsor a standing-room-only event focusing on an issue that is on the forefront of most workforce discussions about workforce in recent months and years, Navigating the Opioid Crisis. This program, developed and administered by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce was held as a joint effort with us and the Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City chambers of commerce.
- One of Bristol's companies made news as Massachusetts-based Agero, Inc., was named as one of CIO Review's Most Promising Insurance Solution Providers for its next generation roadside assistance technology
- We were back in Nashville in late February for Day on the Hill. Many of our community partners and I were at the TEDC Day on the Hill Luncheon and lots of subsequent meetings around the event. Thanks to Bell Flight for being a sponsor of the luncheon (and inviting me to be to join their table).
- The boys - Michael Parker and Ronnie Price - joined me in Music City after the Day on the Hill to host TNECD at a Predators game as a TNECD Appreciation event with about a dozen staff members attending (including our own Dana Glenn!). We also had Mitch Miller from NeTREP and Mark from TRI join us as the Predators scored the tying goal with less than one second remaining in regulation and went on to defeat the Flames in overtime.
- Once again, STREAMWORKS Twenty Under 20 was announced, recognizing some truly amazing young people throughout our region. NETWORKS was once again proud to be a sponsor.
- Chairman Bill Sumner (who was also at TEDC Day on the Hill) and I attended Eastman's Regional Partners Breakfast where Eastman CEO Mark Costa gave a company update and presented some great perspectives on local, national, and global issues.
We continue to work on key projects, although the pandemic has most definitely slowed our progress somewhat. We are trying to push through with our property development committee, including the work to be done in Partnership Park II with the TNECD High Impact infrastructure development grant. While COVID-19 has postponed some meetings, Mitch and I continue to work on the infrastructure front. We are also evaluating and talking to partners about what this pandemic will mean to the Northeast Tennessee Red Carpet Tour, coming up with creative alternatives depending on broader events' outcomes; more on that to follow.
Finally, a big shout-out to Chassen Haynes of TNECD for being named to this year's Consultant Connect Top 50 Economic Development Professionals of North America. We work many projects with Chassen, including most all aerospace prospects as that is one of his target industry sectors. I've known Chassen for many years and I can attest that he is a most deserving recipient of this recognition (as was his colleague Victoria Hirschberg, who made the list last year).
As we all push on through these unusual times and their unusual challenges, do not hesitate in reaching out if we can do anything at all for you. And above all else, please social distance, make good choices (somewhat of our office mantra), and please stay safe and healthy. Once we get through this surreal period, there will be lots more to do and talk about, so let's all be around for it.