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With groundwork complete, TCEDA ready for success

SHARON CASKEY HAYES • Jan 23, 2007 at 9:09 AM

GREENEVILLE - In 2006, the Tri-Cities Economic Development Alliance attracted the interest of 14 companies looking to expand or relocate.

And it's just getting started.

"Our goal in 2007 is to greatly increase the interest in our region and to grow those numbers dramatically," said Andy Burke, president and chief executive officer of the alliance.

The TCEDA held its annual meeting at the General Morgan Inn on Tuesday, outlining its accomplishments of the past year and its opportunities for the future.

Burke said the alliance has spent the past year building its infrastructure and developing cluster analysis and work force profiles - "the mundane things you have to do."

"But now it's time to go to work," he said.

The Tri-Cities Economic Development Alliance was established two years ago as an umbrella economic development organization designed to market the region to the world. At the time, organizers said they hoped to create 7,200 high-paying jobs in five years and raise the region's average industry wage by 20 percent - from $26,436 a year to $31,723 a year - to align local wages with statewide averages.

To date, the alliance has established a staff and an office, raised public and private donations to fund the organization, and conducted industry cluster analysis and work force profiles of the region.

But it isn't credited with creating any new jobs.

Brian Ferguson, chairman and CEO of Eastman Chemical Co. and chairman of the TCEDA for the past two years, said the alliance's initial goals are still doable.

"This is a cooperative effort. You've got to start by getting agreement on a shared vision. That took time. You have to raise the money. That takes time. You have to get staff, you have to get a place, you have to do the studies. That has taken a good 18 to 20 months in this process," Ferguson said.

"You go through a gestation period of building one of these organizations. This year is the year to answer your question - what do we give back," Ferguson said.

Burke said the alliance plans to work toward its marketing goals through a new Web site that's easy to read and easy to navigate. The site will provide various information to prospective businesses and industries, such as local demographics, tax information, and quality-of-life issues. And it will pinpoint the region on a map, showing the central proximity of the alliance's 10-county territory covering Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Those counties are Johnson, Carter, Sullivan, Washington, Unicoi, Hancock, Hawkins and Greene in Tennessee and Scott and Washington in Virginia.

"We are going to do what is most important for a Web site and for an organization like us, and that is to let the world know where we are," Burke said. "Location is one of our biggest assets."

He said the alliance will target certain industries identified in its cluster analysis study. Those industry clusters include appliance and engine equipment manufacturing; motor vehicle-related manufacturing; nondurable industry machinery; logistics, distribution and warehousing; aviation; health services; information technology/services; pharmaceuticals; and printing and publishing.

"We will focus on these clusters as we move forward, and we're already making some good contacts in each of these areas," Burke said.

He said the alliance drew interest from 14 companies last year that were looking to expand or relocate. In most cases, those projects were handed off to the local economic development organizations.

"Some have worked their course. We didn't land them. But we had the opportunity to present our region to them. We think that's a good number," Burke said.

He said the more companies that look, the better.

"You'll have a better opportunity to land them," Burke said.

He said the alliance will host four site consultants in March and treat them to NASCAR races at Bristol Motor Speedway. The consultants will stay at the General Morgan Inn in Greeneville.

"None of these four consultants have been in this region before. This will be a great way to introduce them," Burke said.

Incoming TCEDA Chairman Scott Niswonger said the alliance has laid the groundwork for future success. He said it has established a regional marketing and business recruitment plan that's based on the industry cluster study, and it's just completed a regional work force profile analysis that provides a snapshot of the current local work force capabilities and the needs of the future.

The TCEDA also includes the Mountain South World Trade Center under its wings, which connects the region with more than 300 World Trade Centers around the globe.

Combined, the alliance's offerings give economic developers across the region the tools "to collaborate or compete" on projects to create new jobs and build the local economy, Niswonger said.

"I personally believe we've got about a 24-month window of opportunity to prove to our stakeholders that this concept will work," he said.

Niswonger presented Ferguson with a gift of appreciation for his service to the alliance.

Following Tuesday's event, Ferguson said he believes the alliance will deliver on its goals.

"There are a number of good things in the pipeline. We're being talked to and visited by people that have never been here before - didn't know we existed. And I am confident that it's going to show some very good results in the next 12 to 24 months," he said.

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