Grandy reflects, lays out vision

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy Photo by A.J. Kaufman

By A.J. Kaufman, Managing Editor

As he marks six years in office come September, Washington County, Tenn. Mayor Joe Grandy anticipates a busy 2024. The Business Journal recently sat down with Grandy to reflect on a successful 2023 and look ahead.

As recent highlights, Grandy mentioned the Jonesborough K-8 School opening in January and Tennessee College of Applied Technology’s Boones Creek Extension last autumn. The satellite version of TCAT provides workforce development opportunities and now holds classes on construction, nursing and carpentry at a former elementary school. Phase 2 of TCAT is set to begin with a technology center to house diesel mechanics and heavy construction equipment operation. All TCAT subjects are being integrated into Career and Technical Education programs, which have already reached 40-50 county high school students.

“Students, when they graduate from high school, will have a diploma and a certificate in some trade or skill, so they’re ready for the job market,” Grandy told the Business Journal. “{It’s} for those kids who don’t want to pursue a post-secondary education. The governor is super supportive of that.”

These originated as part of leveraging a $40 million grant early last year from the Volunteer State.

One of the focuses of the former Washington County commissioner is on luring and keeping businesses in the area, as well as increasing economic development.

Grandy explained that this area has a very low unemployment rate, but a surprisingly high amount of unemployed people of working age who are not looking for a job, perhaps in the aftermath of COVID.

“We’ve worked with the state and leveraged some grants for site development in our industrial park in Telford,” the mayor said. “We just completed the development of 37 acres of raw land. We are in a good place to improve business. One of our primary concerns is, could we service a new industry that would bring a couple hundred jobs here? Can we actually produce the workers for them? And we have to be able to convince them that we can. That’s our next step. But we have done the groundwork; the infrastructure is there.”

The county generated over 200 new net jobs last year. The former businessman believes job creation comes from existing businesses.

Grandy noted the Appalachian Producers Cooperative in Telford — opening later this year and covered extensively in the February Business Journal — had its genesis two years ago when the county legislative body approved $2 million to go toward development of the meat processing plant for local farmers.

There is a health and wellness component to the current agenda, too, by continuing to train future nurses to meet the region’s growing healthcare needs.

Grandy is also proud of working with the state to open the Northeast Tennessee Regional Recovery Centers in Roan Mountain and Johnson City last fall. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse awarded a $1 million infrastructure grant and $1.3 million recurring operational grants for both male and female residential recovery court programs. The mayor says the facilities will benefit eight or nine counties.

“The entire region came together and supported it financially,” Grandy said. “It’s one of a kind in the state, maybe the country. It provides a space for folks to actually recover and be trained in some job skill, so when they come out, they can re-enter and be part of society. It’s more than just a second chance; it’s maybe a new life.”

Understanding the scarcity of housing across the Tri-Cities, the mayor is enthusiastic about cost-effective homes being built.

He reports 330 residential building permits in the county, not including Johnson City or Jonesborough. Texas-based D.R. Horton has become the area’s largest home construction company, with over $17 million invested in Washington County last year alone.

Lastly, Grandy would like to support new passenger service at Tri-Cities Airport and seeks to prioritize development of the 160 acres of runway.

The Blountville facility recently announced a significant increase in passenger numbers for 2023, reflecting the airport’s continued growth. Last year, the total number of passengers reached nearly 450,000, a more than 15% increase compared to the previous year.

“We are trying to focus on opportunities to grow our workforce, because I think we will be challenged to recruit new business, despite the fact that we have created the infrastructure to bring them here, without an adequate workforce,” Grandy concluded.

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