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Study concludes concept of Med Tech Corridor has failed in Johnson City

JEFF KEELING • Feb 4, 2007 at 11:36 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Johnson City's highly touted Med Tech Corridor concept has failed, and if a new direction isn't pursued soon the area is likely to miss out on making the most of its economic potential.

That is the conclusion of a study commissioned by the city, East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance. The final report from Market Street Services Inc., an Atlanta-based agency, is due next week, but the Johnson City Press has obtained a draft copy of the study, which makes no bones about the need for local leaders to act quickly in key areas if they wish to avoid seeing the corridor's fate repeated for the entire area.

"The opportunity to develop a ‘true' Med Tech Corridor has passed and State of Franklin Road now includes many retail and commercial establishments," the study states. "The development of the Med Tech economy in Johnson City can and will proceed without geographically forming into a true corridor."

While the study serves as an indictment of past and current policies regarding the Med Tech Corridor, it also holds out hope for the city's Med Tech future. It calls for major players - from economic development entities, to local governments to industry leaders - to exhibit a "willingness to change" and exercise one of two options in terms of "governance" of Med Tech economic development.

The suggested options are to modify the focus of the Economic Development Board and several other entities so that those groups collectively oversee key components of Med Tech development, or to create a new organization and give it the responsibility, resources and authority to lead the effort.

The draft study recommends the collective approach, but sources also indicate that the Market Street Report's final draft will include a third option for governance.

Market Street's work outlines a Med Tech Economic Development Plan and an Implementation Plan.

The Economic Development Plan features five specific objectives, including:

• Strengthen and grow Johnson City's Med Tech economy.

• Effectively support entrepreneurs and innovators.

• Strive to build a more competitive work force in health care, professional services and technology.

• Adopt planning policies that promote sustainable, long-term economic growth and a strong quality of life.

• Develop a cohesive approach to marketing Johnson City and its Med Tech assets.

This portion of the plan is the result of extensive qualitative and quantitative research conducted by Market Street representatives regarding Johnson City's demographics, economy and business climate competitiveness as well as a comprehensive analysis of existing Med Tech Corridor assets.

Market Street's research process also included the identification of four business sector groupings to prioritize for targeted growth, including health care services, medical products, finance/insurance and information/health technology services.

The Implementation Plan, which provides the framework for working on and accomplishing the Economic Development Plan, features sections including:

• Governance structure.

• Funding mechanisms.

• Timetable.

• Benchmarks and performance measures.

This portion of the study takes to task the decentralized approach taken so far in the development of Johnson City's Med Tech economy.

"The city, ETSU and MSHA have been the primary organizations working on developing the local Med Tech economy for the past 20 years. They have been successful in building key assets which bolster the Med Tech economy, but it has been done in somewhat of a piecemeal way without much cohesiveness," the study states.

"After completion of the 1993 Med Tech Corridor master plan, one of the barriers to implementation and subsequent corridor development was the absence of a single organization dedicated to furthering this effort. There needs to be an organization charged with the responsibility and financial resources to advance Med Tech development in Johnson City."

Market Street's suggestions acknowledge there are a number of separate organizations in Johnson City that have various economic development-related functions, but goes on to suggest their current structures and programs are not ideally compatible with what is needed for the future of the city's Med Tech economy.

"Changes are needed to create greater capacity for economic development in Johnson City," the study states, but qualifies that suggestion with, "creating a new organization is not necessarily the answer."

Ultimately, the study calls for the Economic Development Plan to be implemented over a period of five years. Prior to the beginning of that timetable, decisions on governance options, commitments on moving forward with the plan and identification of funding options should occur.

Corey Shoun contributed to this report.

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