NETWORKS revamps its marketing plans

Rick Wagner • Dec 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County’s joint economic development effort has revamped its marketing plans for 2009.

But it may not be done quite yet.

The group remains focused on a rifle approach of targeting selected prospects rather than a broad-based, shotgun approach.

However, NETWORKS officials are still seeking input for what areas should be targeted in its rifle sites, so to speak.

Jack Lawson, director of economic development for the NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership, outlined the in-progress marketing plan at the December NETWORKS board meeting.

After the presentation, he handed out questionnaires seeking input from board members on how NETWORKS should prioritize its marketing efforts, including revamping the NETWORKS Web site and targeting of specific clusters such as automotive and pharmaceuticals.

Lawson and Keith Wilson, chairman of the NETWORKS board and publisher of the Kingsport Times-News, said the results will be compiled and presented for possible inclusion in the NETWORKS draft marketing plan.

Setting priorities

NETWORKS, a joint effort of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City, is asking what percentage of its marketing should go toward automotive parts and components and a list of other industries: metal products, plastics, telecommunications, electronics, printing, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, aviation-related industries or other suggested industries.

“It was sort of a follow-up to the strategic plan we did last year,” Lawson said. “We don’t have that big a budget so we have to be careful where we put our money.”

More than half of NETWORKS 2008-09 marketing and travel budget of nearly $193,000 goes to the Regional Business Alliance, a regional umbrella marketing organization.

Richard Venable, chief executive officer of NETWORKS and a former Sullivan County mayor and former Tennessee state House member, said NETWORKS wants to work closely with others marketing the region.

“We do our best not to duplicate efforts,” Venable said, adding that the survey results may be used in the marketing plan as well as for ideas for the annual update to the strategic plan in mid-2009.

Venable and Lawson and NETWORKS works closely with Tennessee, area power distributors, the alliance and others.

Results of the questionnaires and suggested tweaks to the NETWORKS marketing plan are to be discussed at the Feb. 19 NETWORKS meeting.

“Our marketing plan should dovetail a lot with what the Northeast Tennessee Regional Industrial Development Association is doing,” Lawson said of a group that represents electricity distributors in the region. He said the NETWORKS plan also should dovetail with the Regional Alliance for Economic Development plans.

Budgets and prospects

The alliance funding comes up for review by the three funding groups this year.

NETWORKS spends $103,000 for its share of the alliance budget.

Other budget items in the $192,162 annual marketing and travel budget for NETWORKS are $12,000 in print advertising, $14,000 in local travel and auto expenses, $25,162 in marketing travel events, $10,000 in professional conferences, $5,000 in project development, $14,000 in dues, subscriptions and meetings, $5,000 in local memberships and sponsorships, $1,000 in Web site design and maintenance and $3,000 in prospect materials and booths.

At the February NETWORKS meeting, interim alliance head Tom Ferguson, who formally replaces Andy Burke as interim president and chief executive officer of the alliance, may present the alliance marketing plan for 2009.

The alliance, funded by Sullivan, Washington and Greene counties, represents a 10-county area of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia as an umbrella marketing organization.

Ferguson, who helped start and once headed the Greene County Partnership and helped hire Burke, told NETWORKS officials that the alliance would do a better job of referring prospects to NETWORKS. He also lauded Venable and the rest of the NETWORKS staff.

Ferguson’s comments came after NETWORKS officials at the meeting announced — in response to a question at the October meeting from board member Hoyt Denton of Kingsport — that the alliance provided four prospects to NETWORKS in 2008 through the meeting date, compared to seven provided to NETWORKS from the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association, eight from the state of Tennessee, nine from consultants, and 37 from NETWORKS itself.

“Their focus has not been in that area (generating prospects),” Venable said of the alliance’s efforts to gain recognition for the region.

And the survey says ...

So far, Lawson said the top area targeted by respondents to the survey has been automotive, coming it at an average recommendation for about 40 percent of available funds, followed by pharmaceuticals, medical devices and aviation.

“We’d like to know we’re doing what the board wants us to do,” Lawson said.

He said most of the results so far were generally expected although some added a targeted area for medical services.

Venable said the results may cause minor tweaks in the marketing plan for 2009 but that it might have a more direct impact on the strategic plan updated each year.

He said that NETWORKS is heavily marketing the old Magneti Marelli building on Airport Parkway near Tri-Cities Regional Airport as a home to a new auto parts maker. The former shock absorber plant could be a supplier or sub-supplier to the new Volkswagen plant to open near Chattanooga in 2011, and NETWORKS is marketing to automotive suppliers with business cards that show the various auto makers already in the Southeast.

“We’ll ask the County Commission to approve tweaks to the strategic plan in the spring,” Venable said, while he said marketing may be done more “on the fly” in a quest to get spin-off from the Volkswagen plant being built near Chattanooga.

In addition, NETWORKS is looking for input on other areas, including distribution, destination retail development, tourism services and recruitment of retirees, medical personnel and the general work force, including those with needed military or other skills.

“We’re not going to vary much from what our clusters are now,” Venable said, adding that chemicals, fibers and plastics tied to Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co. and pharmaceuticals from King Pharmaceuticals will continue to provide opportunities for suppliers.

Lawson said tourism services was strong in the results, with comments about the need to capitalize on the region’s scenic beauty.

In retail development, NETWORKS officials have been attending the International Council of Shopping Center event but in 2009 plan to exhibit at those events.

As for what Sullivan County has to offer, NETWORKS is looking at how to split its efforts among location, transportation, work force, education, low costs, quality of life, existing buildings, industrial sites, available incentives and other suggested items.

And for marketing activities, the group is seeking input on how much effort it should put in print advertising and whether that should be trade publications, site selection magazines, area business journals, in-flight and travel magazines or others.

It also has on its list of possibilities trade shows, its Internet site that is to be revamped this year, direct mail postcards, visits to site consultants, advertising novelties, prospect hospitality such as tickets to Bristol Motor Speedway and brochures and printed promotional material.

Examples of a postcard include a recent mailing to Volkswagen suppliers visited in Germany. The postcard features a photo of a flaming wreck at Bristol Motor Speedway, titled “Got Parts?”

Another effort to target suppliers for Volkswagen included a fold-out business card that Venable took to Germany for a Tennessee-sponsored trade mission there in October.

The fold-out was a map of the South highlighting other vehicle makers, which Venable said proved so popular that officials of other Tennessee localities borrowed them to give prospects a good idea of how well Tennessee is situated among automobile makers.

In addition, NETWORKS has offered BMS tickets to suppliers it visited. Also on the trip were Alicia Summers, director of the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association, and Andy Burke, soon-to-retire head of the alliance.

For more information, visit www.networkstn.com.

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