NeTREP luncheon focuses on putting regionalism into action


NeTREP CEO Mitch Miller introduces Mike Brenneman, who was visiting Tannery Knobs Bike Park from his home in Pennsylvania. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

The Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Parntership (NeTREP) investor update luncheon last Friday offered plenty of opportunity to reflect upon encouraging economic data high atop Tannery Knobs Bike Park, which is a recent success story in its own right.

NeTREP CEO Mitch Miller breezed through the encouraging economic indicators from the partnership’s last fiscal year.

“Just in this past year, we’ve seen $227 million in new wages added in the Johnson City metro,” Miller said. “We’ve seen our unemployment rate decrease by 1.8 percent. And all together, about $5.1 million in community and industrial grants have been committed to projects that will impact job creation here in this region.”

But Miller’s main point, which echoed throughout Friday’s proceedings, was that strong partnerships have been the catalyst behind the recent economic growth in our region. There was a palpable sense of urgency on Friday to transform all the talk of regionalism into action.

Will Barrett, chair of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, speaks during a luncheon at last Friday. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE

Will Barrett, the chair of NeTREP, spoke of a conscious effort being made by leaders of NeTREP and the NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership to work together on behalf of the entire region, which has recently been dubbed the Appalachian Highlands.

“That could mean potentially merging organizations,” Barrett said. “I want to pause and thank Clay (Walker) and NETWORKS for being so progressive there.

“If you want different results, you have to take a different approach, and you have to change the game.”

For now, the leaders of both groups are sifting through success stories from other regions around the country to find out what works and what doesn’t. They are also digesting feedback from a recent forum hosted by ETSU and awaiting another update from the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

But Barrett is eager to “translate that into a comprehensive plan” that will be unveiled in the future.

Barrett’s vision is a regional hub capable of driving economic growth for the entire region, creating efficiency through cooperation.

“It’s not meant to be in charge of everything,” Barrett said. “It’s not meant to be over everything or to take away anyone’s unique identity. It’s really to coordinate the efforts and not duplicate them, to be the hub and spoke instead of the umbrella.”

As leaders look to put words into action, outdoor recreation seems to be something everyone can rally around.

“We really want to brand this region as an outdoor destination,” said Miller said.

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