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Consultant offers advice for growing Med Tech economy

JEFF KEELING • Feb 13, 2007 at 10:33 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Local citizens got their first official glimpse of a report on Johnson City's "Med Tech" economy Tuesday, and leaders sounded ready to answer the call for new direction.

The report's main author told those gathered at the Centre at Millennium Park that "we're talking about more resources and additional staff to get this done the right way."

Mac Holladay of Market Street Services also suggested that everyone involved with the future of the area's Med Tech economy take to heart advice he has given everyone who has worked for him:

"Don't say, ‘We've always done it that way,' or ‘We tried that already.' Neither one of those statements is going to help us in 2007."

Holladay's consulting firm conducted its study over the past half-year or so after being commissioned by the city, East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance, which split its $90,000 cost.

Holladay added strong words of encouragement for the "Med Tech Task Force" that worked with Market Street Services, saying the area's potential is such that "there are many places we've worked across the country would die to be in your position."

Holladay, project director Irene Sacks and assistant Ellen Anderson studied the area's Med Tech base 13 years after a similar study by another consultant. They looked at "competitive realities" in the local economy, such as the fact that manufacturing accounted for 35 percent of Washington County employment in 1975, while services made up 17 percent, but that those figures practically reversed by 2005, to 32 percent services and 11 percent manufacturing.

The consultants also did a "target business analysis," looking at local health care services, medical products businesses, finance/insurance and information/health technology services. They outlined five main objectives in a "Med Tech Economic Development Plan" then suggested ways the area could implement the plan.

Holladay urged leaders to be inclusive as they move toward implementing the plan, saying it "is very much about the community and is very much for the community, because it's about improving the economy, and increasing wealth and job opportunities for people now and as time goes forward."

Key leaders agreed that the public needs to be involved and welcomed. ETSU President Paul Stanton said "we want to be inclusive," while Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson asked those in attendance to "get involved and help us define how we want to develop the next steps in this plan."

The key to success, Holladay said, will be bringing the economic development players involved to this point - the Economic Development Board, Chamber of Commerce and others - into a cohesive public-private partnership that also includes new personnel.

"We're talking about more resources and staff to get this done the right way, and the public-private aspect is essential," Holladay said. "It doesn't work any other way."

Centralizing responsibility for the whole economic approach won't necessarily be easy, Holladay said.

"This would be quite a lot of change. ... Organizations might be merged, or new ones developed."

Stanton agreed that a centralized governance structure "is mandatory for success."

Holladay outlined a number of priorities for the coming year, and said the Johnson City area faces a great deal of competition in its economic development goals, which he also said need to be developed further to focus beyond just Med Tech.

Stanton said the process will continue moving forward briskly, starting with meetings to decide on what specific steps will be taken next to implement the plans.

Holladay said it was not necessary to know exactly what to do at this point, but that the conversation leading to specifics needs to begin now for the sake of the area's future generations.

"This work is about my grandchildren and your children and grandchildren - it's not about making us comfortable."

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