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NETWORKS looks back on successful 2016

Rick Wagner • Jan 19, 2017 at 9:32 AM

BLOUNTVILLE —  Clay Walker, head of the NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership, says that 2016 was a great year personally and professionally, even though he spent six days in a coma early in the year.

At the NETWORKS annual meeting Wednesday morning at Northeast State Community College, Walker presented the organization’s 2016 annual report and said he was impressed by how the staff worked with him, and for awhile without him at full speed, on economic development in 2016.

All told, NETWORKS, a regional economic development effort of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City that also has a contract to promote the Phipps Bend Industrial Park in Hawkins County, helped bring 1,540 jobs in 2016, “far and above our record,” and $70 million in investment, Walker said.

He quoted Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd, a potential gubernatorial candidate who this week announced he was stepping down: “In order for Tennessee to remain one of the best places to work and live, it takes a unified effort across the state, and NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership is known for always putting in a major effort to enhance the state” and for being a “valued part of Team Tennessee.” 

“The key,” said Walker, the 2017 chairman of the Tennessee Economic Partnership (TEP), “is being a part of Team Tennessee.” 

The NETWORKS CEO and president said he was especially impressed with how the staff ramped up economic development work when he was off work and how area leaders, including Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and Kingsport City Manager Jeff Fleming, helped and impressed his family in general and his mother in particular during his time out.

Walker said he was particularly disappointed not to attend the Pure Foods U.S. headquarters and operations facility ribbon cutting in Kingsport but that his mother, informally in his place, was very impressed with Venable and got an ultimatum from Fleming: Call him first if she needed help.

Walker said a new NETWORKS video, produced by Kingsport-based Cumberland Marketing, was a highlight of the year with 400,000 views in 48 hours, as were the Red Carpet Tour at Bristol Motor Speedway for site consultants, being named in the top five for aerospace by Expansion Solutions magazine, as well as attending the Site Selectors Guild meeting in Nashville this year.

“I’m still not tired of that video,” Walker said.

However, things weren’t all rosy, and the report mentions the loss of Aurora Caskets of Piney Flats and the Sprint call center in Bristol, Tenn. Walker said he learned long ago that being honest and forthright and never lying was the only way to do economic development. He also said community economic development requires a passion and love for economic development and a great community to sell.

“You can’t do that without a special community,” Walker said, adding that Tuesday he closed on his condominium in downtown Kingsport, near the one where he has lived since coming to NETWORKS three years ago from Middle Tennessee. He said he couldn’t imagine not working in the community he serves as an economic developer.

Other highlights include the ACT Work Ready Community effort, lead by Jeff McCord of Northeast State Community College, and the expansion of Homeland Vinyl at Phipps Bend and Bell Helicopter in Piney Flats.

In addition, Agero Inc. opened its sixth inbound call center in Bristol, Tenn.; LeClerc Foods added a second facility in Kingpsort by buying the former C&F plant on Airport Parkway; KPS Global expanded in Piney Flats; Teleperformance expanded its contact center in Bristol, which drew Gov. Bill Haslam for the announcement; Alpha Natural Resources and Contura Energy moved their headquarters from Virginia to Sullivan County, Alpha to Kingsport and Contura to Bristol.

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