Above: Washington County, TN Mayor Joe Grandy FILE PHOTO
Washington County, Tenn., Mayor Joe Grandy told a committee of the county commission Dec. 2 that a hub organization designed to improve and grow the region’s economy is, “probably within weeks of being established.” That statement represents significant progress in a relatively short period of time for Grandy, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, and the private sector consulting firm they have been working with to stand up such a hub.
Talks between the two largest economic development organizations in northeast Tennessee, NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership and the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership broke down Oct. 15. At that time, Grandy, Venable, and Mark Fuller of ROSC Global, the consultant hired by Eastman to help create a public-private regional economic entity, shifted their focus to a hub organization that could act on behalf of interested businesses and organizations in all eight northeast Tennessee counties.
To that end, Grandy said, they turned to the First Tennessee Development District and its existing foundation. While there were questions as to whether the necessity for certain legal hoop-jumping would necessitate a different venue, Venable said, the District Foundation is now the most likely landing place for the hub.
“It will be an offshoot, not controlled by, but an offshoot of, the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD),” Grandy told the members of the Washington County Commission’s Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Committee Dec. 2.
The advantage of the FTDD is that it is an extant body already familiar to every public sector entity in northeast Tennessee, Grandy said. “That organization is funded through the state and is managed locally – the board of directors for that organization is every mayor in those eight counties – cities, towns, any wide spot in the road, you name it. There are around 40 directors.”
“That organization is a platform that already brings the local political entities together, so we thought it made sense as we move forward to utilize that platform without creating a new one to support local political entities which are really very important with respect to economic development,” Grandy said. “That’s what the state recognizes.”
The full FTDD board will not oversee the hub, however, Grandy said.
The make-up of the board of directors for the hub will be a mix of public, private and social sector leaders. A rivalry has long brewed between public sector bodies and private sector interests. The public sector, by law receives information from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development whenever a prospective new employer is considering locating in the region. Private sector interests, however, have long sought to have a greater role in business recruitment and retention efforts in the region, and have been willing to pay for the privilege. Thus, the question of who gets the most seats on the board has been key.
“The board itself will have an 11-member executive board and a 20- to 30-member advisory or community board,” Grandy told the committee. “The county is represented and will be in this organization. Of the 11, four elected mayors and county mayors will be assigned to the board. Four business partners will be assigned to the board. Two people from the social sector will be appointed, and then one city administrator will be appointed.”
“The community board or advisory board will be expanded to include Chamber members, more business sector members, it would include more local elected officials including commissioners from various counties on a rotating basis and others,” Grandy said.
One of the key sticking points over the last two years of talks between all the parties involved appears to have been ironed out, Grandy told the committee: the question of who will lead the organization on a day-to-day basis. While Grandy declined to name the individual publicly, he told the committee, “There is an initial CEO that has, on a handshake basis, agreed to step up and take the leadership.”
“The hub will give us a different look to the outside world for folks who are looking to relocate businesses or expand businesses in this part of the state,” Grandy said. “The initial components in addition to traditional economic development will be workforce development, a robust approach and coordinated effort around entrepreneurism, and a regional marketing platform that will include tourism. So, a lot of components are coming together.”
UPDATE: The First Tennessee Development District Board’s executive committee, in its Dec. 9 meeting, approved on a 10-2 vote the formation of a new 501 (c) (3) organization to possibly serve as a platform for the hub and approved creation of a committee to develop the articles of incorporation, bylaws and structure of the organization.