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Commerce official announces $2 million for local projects

JEFF KEELING • Feb 2, 2007 at 10:15 AM

JOHNSON CITY - The local economy is growing because of public-private and intergovernmental cooperation, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Sandy Baruah said during a visit Friday to announce more than $2 million worth of federal economic development grants.

"You all have come together in a very, very strong way," Baruah said of local governments, East Tennessee State University and other public agencies that worked to bring funding to projects at the Washington County Industrial Park and Mountain City.

Baruah chose to announce the grants at the ETSU Innovation Lab on West Market Street, where a just-completed expansion was largely funded by a $1 million Economic Development Administration grant. The grants announced Friday will help fund a Johnson City Power Board substation at the industrial park and a water filtration and testing upgrade at Mountain City's Silver Lake Water Treatment Plant.

"All the cooperation that brought this about really celebrates what the president has been trying to do on economic development, and that is bring people together," Baruah said.

The substation will help power the operations of Koyo and Nakatetsu, two auto parts manufacturers set to begin production in September, and will also aid future development at the industrial park. The $1 million EDA grant was possible because the project contributes to more than 150 jobs coming just through the two new manufacturers, which themselves are investing about $40 million in the area.

The Mountain City project will be funded by a $652,000 EDA grant and a $500,000 grant from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission, and is expected to help add more than 100 jobs.

Ken Rea, economic development director for the First Tennessee Development District, wrote both EDA grant applications and provides technical assistance as the grant monies are spent.

Baruah said "smart regional policies" are essential to spurring the kind of private investment that results in economic growth.

"Until the private sector is ready, willing and able to invest in a community, economic growth won't occur - they have to be willing to risk their capital."

He did spend a moment touting the national economy, citing, among other things, a 3.5 percent economic growth rate in the final quarter of 2006 and 41 consecutive months of job growth.

"You cannot have a growing regional economy like you do here without a strong national economy," Baruah said.

Baruah later visited a new "wet lab" in the Innovation Lab's new wing, where he told U.S. Rep. David Davis and officials from ETSU that the Economic Development Administration has broadened its focus in recent years to include entrepreneurial and innovative projects like the one in Johnson City.

"Job growth and entrepreneurship are the keys to economic strength, something your new congressman (Davis) understands very well," Baruah said.

Davis, who founded and runs his own health care business, has been named ranking member of the Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over small business innovation research and small business technology transfer programs that relate closely to the work occurring at the Innovation Lab.

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