Sullivan County commissioner pushing ahead on jobs task force

J. H. Osborne • Jul 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Commissioner Bart Long said last week he’s moving forward with plans to get himself and other county commissioners more actively involved with job creation efforts for the county.

Long, however, took care to say his plan for a jobs creation task force among commissioners is in no way meant to cast criticism on the NETWORKS economic development partnership — funded jointly by the county and its cities.

Long said in fact, he has been working with NETWORKS Director Richard Venable and Venable will be the featured speaker at the new task force’s first — not yet announced — meeting.

“Richard and I have talked extensively about trying to do something together to include the County Commission more-so in the understandings of what (NETWORKS is) doing, so that we can help in any way we can with what they’re doing — and vice versa,” Long said. “Sometimes I get excited in here and I hope nobody takes that the wrong way. It’s just because it’s something I believe enough to care about and get excited about. I truly believe the number one focus we should all have is trying to create and establish an environment where people want to move here, versus leave here.”

Long asked the commission to bear with him in getting the time, date and other details worked out for the task force’s first meeting.

“We need to be prepared to help Richard when he needs us,” Long said. “When he finds that business ... we need to be ready to help bring them here. Once he attracts them and brings them to our area, we’re the legislative body that will be able to provide any kind of incentives or anything to bring them in. At that point it becomes our problem. If we’re all in this together we can work a better circle ... and never have a gap in it.”

Last month, Long passed a sign-up sheet among his fellow commissioners at the County Commission’s monthly meeting.

Afterward, he said he believed all commissioners who were present when the list was passed signed up — indicating they’re interested in at least coming to an exploratory get together to talk about what he wants to do.

After the first meeting, Long said he’ll likely ask County Mayor Steve Godsey to officially designate the task force as a standing committee of the commission.

“On our priority list, this ought to be way up on the top of the page,” Long said at the commission’s June meeting.. “This is something I intend to follow through with.”

Long first proposed creation of such a task force in May after Commissioner John McKamey distributed a list showing Sullivan County’s population grew only an estimated 0.6 percent between 2000 and 2008.

“That’s embarrassing,” Long said at the time. “Look down through there at those other counties. I am flat embarrassed that the growth in our county was 0.6 percent.”

That list showed many other counties, including Washington County, with double-digit population increases during the same time frame.

“Point-six percent,” Long said then. “That means that there are no jobs here. That’s why nobody’s coming here and people are leaving here.”

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