Above: Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable (Contributed)
Noting the successful joint local government management of Tri-Cities Airport and freshly broken ground on Aerospace Park, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy are establishing a working committee to explore new areas for regional cooperation.
As a fresh step in fostering greater regional cooperation, the Mayors convened a joint work session Thursday with both county commissions at the Airport.
“For now, it’s a historic start where we have both commissions meeting and breaking bread together for the first time, learning about each other as we begin thinking about how we can improve our communities through cooperation,” Venable said. “There are several areas we have identified for the working committee. We know the world of work is changing and for our region to be successful over the long term, we’ll have to retain and attract people, not smokestacks.”
Mayor Grandy added he believes in the ability of Northeast Tennesseans to compete, and local governments should cooperate across political boundary lines to set the stage for their success.
“The state of Tennessee will always be an important player in economic development, but if we’re really going to pick our game up, we’re going to have to do it by working together locally,” Grandy said.
Both Mayors pointed to existing programs in the region aimed at promoting the development of business skills and entrepreneurialism, particularly the AccelNow business accelerator, incubators such as Holston Business Development Center and East Tennessee State University’s Innovation Lab, and Chamber of Commerce small-business development programs.
“We know that as much as 80 percent of all new jobs in our region our going to be created by businesses that are already here and that 37 percent of all jobs are in businesses with 1-4 people, a number of those being new business start-ups,” Venable said. “So, while we have focused resources on trying to attract multi-national companies to locate their next plant in the region, the network supporting small business creation is fragmented. We also know we lack early-stage angel capital and later-stage venture capital to attract business start-ups.”
Both mayors said the key could be to connect capital from legacy industries in the region with new business start-ups as well as developing a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs.
“We have natural beauty and a low-tax, low-crime environment ideal for young families,” Grandy said. “What we don’t have are the tools that attract new business start-ups. Tools that are readily available in the mid-market majors of the South, all of which have some form of a supporting infrastructure for entrepreneurs.”
Creating a structure where entrepreneurs can access working capital, develop business skills and perhaps share back office support could all be part of the package.
“Ultimately, we hope to create a one-stop shop for entrepreneurial success,” Venable said. “But there are other areas we will be looking at for potential regional cooperation, possibly including existing business development, tourism promotion and traditional industrial development. Today is just the start.”