JOHNSON CITY - Entrepreneurs and innovators can become an important contributor to the area's Med Tech economy, but they must have adequate support in order to thrive, a report completed for Johnson City, East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance says.
The second objective of Market Street Services' Med Tech economic development plan focuses on the current support system available to entrepreneurs, and suggests ways to improve it. Ultimately, the report suggests increasing resources at a local small business "incubator" that it claims has the potential to become an entrepreneurial engine for the area.
An Atlanta-based consulting firm, Market Street Services spent the fall and early winter on its report, which suggests ways the Johnson City area can best utilize its strengths in health care and technology to spur overall economic growth and development.
While the typical entrepreneur may not employ large numbers of people, taken together small businesses provide the bulk of American jobs. And since innovation often drives health care and technology forward, the report says, local leaders should do everything possible to foster entrepreneurial activity.
The report notes that since 2000, the number of self-employed has grown significantly faster in Washington County (19.2 percent) than nationally or statewide (both 12.3 percent).
"Supporting small businesses spawned from innovation will help to diversify the Med Tech economy and provide opportunities for business growth and expansion in the future," the report says.
It suggests that the existing support structure for small business needs to be more cohesive, and that local governments or employers should fund a new staff position to "(direct) local entrepreneurs to the appropriate resources and (assist) them with navigating the local and regional small business support system."
The resources in place include:
•A small business development center funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
•A local entrepreneurs club with more than 200 members and a "GeekSouth" networking group.
•A chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).
•A recently founded "angel investment network."
The report touts the potential of ETSU's Innovation Lab, which sits on the northern end of the Med Tech corridor's 60-acre "middle anchor," which is the one segment of the original corridor concept that the report says can still be developed in harmony with the initial Med Tech concept. The Innovation Lab, however, is underfunded even to effectively support the Tri-Cities Angel Investor Network, the report says.
While some leaders have suggested letting a regional economic development agency such as the Tri-Cities Economic Development Alliance manage the investor network, the Market Street Services report recommends strengthening the Innovation Lab.
Concentrating efforts at the West Market Street facility would centralize entrepreneur support and expertise and "cement the reputation of the Innovation Lab within the community and the region as a go-to organization for small business and entrepreneur support."
To make the most of the area's entrepreneurial capacity, ETSU and other sources will have to increase financial support of the Innovation Lab. The report recommends hiring an additional staff person at the lab, who could support the investor network, direct entrepreneurs to available "nurturing" resources, and coordinate collaboration among the resources listed above.
The report also suggests broadening the collaboration beyond Johnson City, and even rotating some support services around the region.
All the keys to successful collaboration and maximum service delivery to innovators and entrepreneurs will rest with the suggested additional Innovation Lab staff, the report seems to suggest. The lab's connection with ETSU dovetails with the report's recommendation that the region support enhanced research and innovation at ETSU, and try to find the money to "co-sponsor research, build needed facilities, and attract talented faculty."