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Why care about regionalism? Good jobs, lower taxes — and grandkids growing up here

Staff reports • Aug 2, 2018 at 12:39 PM

Good jobs, lower taxes, a higher standard of living and grandchildren growing up here.

These are some of the benefits of regionalism, as described by local business and government leaders.

“Residents of the Tri-Cities will see the benefits in socioeconomic quality of life improvements such as good jobs, education, safety, health and wellness, housing, infrastructure and lower taxes for everyone,” Kingsport Mayor John Clark said.

A DIVERSIFIED ECONOMY 

A more collaborative approach to economic and community development would lead to a more diversified economy and bring better jobs and a higher standard of living, according to Gary Mabrey, Johnson City Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

“The additional investments by new and existing business should enhance local government revenue streams that moderate the need for more user fees, additional sales taxes, and allow for strategic increases in property taxes for infrastructure improvements, schools, roads, parks, etc.,” he said.

John Campbell, former Kingsport city manager and executive director of AccelNow, said opportunities for a more regional approach deliver better, more cost-effective services, and collaborative approaches can yield more competitive business park properties for the region to compete with other markets in the South.

“Regional cooperation in developing a stronger entrepreneurial environment helps to retain our ‘best and brightest’ and to bring back a higher percentage of our ‘best and brightest,’ ” he said.

DISMAL DEMOGRAPHICS

The region’s demographic trends lend an urgency to the current discussions on regionalism.

Population growth projections for the region are grim, and the average age is creeping up as young people leave for larger, urban areas.

“For example, our average age is almost 39 years, whereas it is 34 years in Nashville,” said Johnson City Vice Mayor Jenny Brock.

She noted that younger workers look for a lifestyle first and a job second. But the good news is “we have all the elements to be that place. We just have to make our footprint bigger and more visible to compete with the real competition — Knoxville, Murfreesboro, Clarksville and Chattanooga. Johnson City, Kingsport or Bristol alone just cannot compete alone. Smart growth will bring jobs and a lifestyle that will benefit our regional citizens.”

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine has said the region can’t survive economically under the current population trend.

“This is an urgent issue for us,” he said. “Conversely, If we grow new businesses and new jobs, we create opportunity for our kids to stay here and raise their families. We will see investment in our communities, growth in our tax base (which keeps our tax rates down), expanded and more reliable services, and, have I mentioned?... We can watch our kids and grandkids grow up right here.”

STRONGER TOGETHER

Over and over again, business and community leaders stressed that the area is stronger as a region than any one community by itself.

Ken Maness points to previous regional projects.

“The All American Cities initiative, the MeadowView Conference Center project, the Tri-Cities Airport, Bristol Motor Speedway, the new Ballad Health, ETSU Medical School, Tennessee’s newest state park at Rocky Fork. There are many wonderful assets in our region that arose from a cooperative spirit within our great region,” said Maness, a former Kingsport alderman and current member of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority.

Food City CEO Steve Smith offered the example of the regional jail in Southwest Virginia as one of the best examples of regionalism.

“For years, each county built, maintained and operated their own individual jails, at a high cost to taxpayers. Several years ago, as many of these jails became antiquated and needed to be replaced, a regional jail system was formed, allowing multiple counties to work together with the state to more efficiently and humanely house local detainees,” he said. “At the time, the project received quite a bit of negative feedback, but today, its benefits are clearly seen throughout our region. Apply this example to economic development efforts — what could be achieved?”

The region is no longer “just a stop along the way” or a place 100 miles from Knoxville, according to Jerry Petzoldt, founder and CEO of the TCI Group.

“We are our own great region and it is past time we act like one, are recognized as one, and enjoy the benefit it will bring,” he said.

Jon Smith, Tri-Cities Airport Authority chairman, summed up the issue this way:

“The ultimate reason that regional residents should care is that regionalism is the best approach for ensuring that this truly unique and wonderful place that we call home will grow and prosper and be the sort of place that we want to pass on to our children.”

Jerry Petzoldt, founder and CEO of the TCI Group: “We are our own great region and it is past time we act like one, are recognized as one, and enjoy the benefit it will bring.”

John Campbell, former Kingsport city manager and executive director of AccelNow: “Regional cooperation in developing a stronger entrepreneurial environment helps to retain our ‘best and brightest’ and to bring back a higher percentage of our ‘best and brightest.’ ”

Jenny Brock, Johnson City vice mayor: “We just have to make our footprint bigger and more visible to compete with the real competition — Knoxville, Murfreesboro, Clarksville and Chattanooga. Johnson City, Kingsport or Bristol alone just cannot compete alone.”

Alan Levine, Ballad Health CEO: “We will see investment in our communities, growth in our tax base (which keeps our tax rates down), expanded and more reliable services, and, have I mentioned?... We can watch our kids and grandkids grow up right here.”

Steve Smith, Food City CEO:  “At the time, the (Southwest Virginia Regional Jail) project received quite a bit of negative feedback, but today, its benefits are clearly seen throughout our region. Apply this example to economic development efforts — what could be achieved?”

 

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