This was the year that was…


By Scott Robertson

One nice thing about The Business Journal is that we don’t exist merely as what comedian Flip Wilson once referred to as a “church of what’s happening now.” The Business Journal, having covered business news in this region since 1988, also serves as historic record.

  You can go back and find in our pages the stories of the birth of Eastman (as a stand-alone company aside from Kodak), Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System, among others. We have chronicled the rise of regional business leaders such as Scott Niswonger and Jeff Byrd. We have served as the medium in which new leaders like Alan Levine and Brian Noland gave their first long-form interviews. And we have chronicled the fall of individuals and organizations from the Regional Alliance for Economic Development to Virginia Intermont College. I would submit that our reportage on all of these stories holds up as accurate, complete and impartial. We have been willing to show the failings of our friends and the accomplishments of our rivals with unblinking honesty.

This year has proved no different. For instance, I personally like Dr. Janice Gilliam, former president of Northeast State Community College. The Journal was the first Tri-Cities based outlet to sit down with her for a long-form Q&A, travelling to North Carolina to do so just after it was announced she would be moving here. In that interview I found her to be engaging, knowledgeable and energetic. But this year, when the state forced her resignation after faculty demanded a deep investigation into college’s bookkeeping, I was forced to admit that the facts are the facts. And when, in an interview with another outlet, she blamed her underlings for her administration’s mistakes, I wished The Journal had been the one looking into Northeast State’s finances in time to break the story.

I would put our coverage this year of the Ballad merger up against anyone’s. Thanks for that go in part to Ron Scott, CEO of Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union. Scott hired Jeff Keeling, our lead healthcare writer, away from us, but graciously allowed Jeff to take the time as a free-lancer to continue following that story for The Journal. Both Scott and Keeling have a sincere desire to see this region grow and thrive. Neither is originally “from ‘round here,” but both could serve as role models for Tri-Cities professionals.

It has been my profound hope that our work this year will serve as the record for what has been a remarkable year in business. The Ballad merger and the regional cooperation on the creation of Aerospace Park both show how we are finally understanding the need to move away from the old every-community-for-itself model into a regional economy. The same can be said for the rise of the GO Virginia-based cooperation now being found from Lee County to Bluefield to Galax, with special emphasis on Bristol and Washington County, Va.

The rise of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NETREP), which saw Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties unify their economic development efforts – and the success of NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership, which worked nine successful projects that represent 587 jobs and just over $90 million in investment are also causes for celebration. In addition, the Greene County Partnership’s work on the Forward Air expansion created 210 jobs in Sullivan County. The Ballad tagline “better together” clearly applies to economic development.

2017 was also the year community development and economic development began to come together as never before. Through the work of the First Tennessee Development District and the United Way of Southwest Virginia, massive career fairs were held in Johnson City and Abingdon in which thousands of students from dozens of school systems were introduced to hundreds of the region’s employers. The first step to growing tomorrow’s economy is making sure today’s youth are aware of opportunities to have successful careers here.

2017 saw triumphs. Sykes saw an opportunity in Wise County to expand by buying the Frontier Secure operation for pennies on the dollar and now employs 800 in the region. Bristol Tennessee Essential Services won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the small business category, becoming the third honoree from the region (Eastman, Pal’s Sudden Service). Engineering programs have been created at ETSU and King University to join the existing program at Milligan College.

The year also saw disappointments. NN Inc., sold its heritage assets in the region and moved its headquarters to Charlotte. The Bristol Mall closed. Kingsport’s is a shadow of its former self. Yet the potential for more new retail appears finally to be close to being realized at Tri-Cities Crossings. Time will tell.

On behalf of all of us at The Business Journal, I hope your story in 2017 has been one of success. We wish you a happy and prosperous 2018 and thank you for your continued support.

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