First Tennessee Development District dives into regional economic development
by Scott Robertson
The First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) Board of Directors voted June 30 to allow a task force to recommend charter and by-law changes to allow the FTDD Foundation to be used as a tool for regional economic development. The board, made up of mayors of cities, towns and counties in northeast Tennessee, approved the motion on a voice vote at its semi-annual meeting in Bristol.
The vote is just the latest step by the FTDD toward re-entering the economic development arena, in which it had been a player 50 years ago, but had long abdicated its role to individual county-based organizations.
The board met in early March, just before the COVID-19 crisis hit in earnest, for a retreat focused on regional economic development. At that meeting, the board determined it had an interest in promoting regionalism, focusing on economic and community development as well as cultural and tourism-related development. A task force made up of FTDD Chairman and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy, Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull, Bristol Mayor Margaret Feierabend, FTDD Director Chris Craig and FTDD Board member Susan Reid was assigned the duties of further developing an initiative to pursue those ends.
That task force met at the Jonesborough Visitors Center June 24 to discuss plans for an organization to operate under the auspices of the FTDD Foundation, which would allow it to utilize both public and private funds.
Among the recommendations of the task force for what they tentatively named the First Tennessee Economic Development Agency were:
• A 15-member board to consist of five members each from the public, private and social sectors
• A president to be appointed by the board
• An executive vice president to oversee day-to-day operations
• Five vice-presidents, an accountant and an administrative assistant
The five vice-presidents were initially discussed as being analogous to the five areas of Grandy and Venable’s Blue Ribbon Task Force: Entrepreneurship, Existing Business Development, Tourism, Workforce Development and Industrial Development. However, since existing business development was determined by the Blue Ribbon Task Force to be best accomplished at the local, rather than regional, level, a vice president of marketing was proposed.
The task force estimated that each of the seven executive positions would require a budget of around $100,000 plus benefits to adequately staff, that the administrative assistant position would require an estimated salary of $60,000 plus benefits and that the finance and accounting director would require an estimated salary of $75,000 plus benefits. Adding $72,000 for overhead and $800,000 for functional area activities including travel and promotion, the task force estimated the annual budget for the agency would run close to $2 million.
The task force posited that if the expenditures were divided equally between the public, private and social sectors, each sector would be responsible for $638,583 annually. For the public sector, that breaks down to $1.25 per capita for the 512,000 residents of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.
The task force has said it will seek to meet with key leaders from the private and social sectors to determine their level of interest in taking part.