Venable: Regionalism alive and well, but should not overtake local 'sovereignty'

Rick Wagner • Apr 12, 2018 at 9:59 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable Tuesday said he’s all about regionalism, but he also doesn’t want to see the “sovereignty” of his constituents and their governments go away. He said that regionalism can be alive and well but local governments don’t have to do everything together.

Near the end of Wednesday’s NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership quarterly meeting, Venable said that the greater Tri-Cities region is all about regionalism.

He cited examples such as the eight-county First Tennessee Development District, in which Sullivan is the most-populous county and thus its largest financial supporter; the Tri-Cities Airport Authority, with representatives from Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., Bristol, Va., Johnson City and Washington County; and the Northeast Tennessee Workforce Development board, which recently received $800,000 in grants for workforce training.

NETWORKS officials in mid 2016 declined an overture to merge with an economic development group comprised of Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties. NETWORKS is a joint effort of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City that does economic development work under contract for neighboring Hawkins County.

Touting $9 million over 14 years

In the 14 years NETWORKS has existed, Venable, its one-time CEO, said the economic development group has facilitated $9 million in investment, not including the recent $4.5 million in Tennessee grant funds for Aerospace Park. He said the 14-year investment translates to almost 6,000 jobs.

“We do a lot regionally, but I don’t want to give up the sovereignty of the people represented,” Venable said.

During the meeting, NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker highlighted the $1 million site development grant Tennessee contributed for Partnership Park II in Bristol and a $500,000 grant for Aerospace Park adjacent to the airport, saying in the latest round of such grants, 17 percent went to Sullivan County. He also cited the 25 jobs and $557,500 capital investment of Master Tool and Die, doing business as Master Precision Machining.

Rail improvement, and more aviation work

Walker also reported NETWORKS officials recently visited a railroad park in Somerset, Ky., to get input and information about a planned similar facility at Partnership Park II. He said it could be used for, among other things, warehousing in addition to basic rail access, while Venable said users could come from three to 70 miles away. Another group recently toured the Oak Ridge National Laboratories to look at future opportunities to use its proximity to help keep, attract and expand business here.

Back to aviation, Walker also said NETWORKS has a table at the MRO Americas aerospace maintenance industry convention in Orlando, as does the airport. “Being there is going to pay off,” airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson said.

He also showed a recently released video NETWORKS commissioned for Aerospace Park.


In addition, Walker showed an updated version of the NETWORKS video released April 13, 2016, which has had 750,000 views over two years.

Walker also said NETWORKS will be featured on a “Success Files” program on cable and satellite television in about two months, focusing on the aviation cluster, Northeast State Community College and Tennessee College of Advanced Technology-Morristown aviation programs and Aerospace Park. 

Jeff McCord of NSCC said the apprenticeship program at the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing may become a model statewide. 

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