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Tri-Cities ranked among top midsized markets in South

Staff report • Jun 17, 2010 at 10:05 AM

The Tri-Cities has been named among the Top Ten Midsized Markets of the Decade by Southern Business & Development magazine.

The local region was ranked No. 4 of the 10 communities in the South that have had tremendous success in industrial recruitment during the last 10 years. The award is based on total points in the SB&D 100, the magazine’s annual listing of the top 100 economic development projects of the year in the South in terms of investment and job creation.

“The Tri-Cities has exhibited forward-thinking strategies and flexibility in meeting industry needs,” said SB&D’s publisher Mike Randle. “Combine that with their low-cost, central East Coast location and they have a recipe for continued success.”

Tom Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of the Regional Alliance for Economic Development, said the region has many positive attributes.

“Not only are we halfway between New York City and Orlando, but we are an interstate hub — located on key transportation corridors,” Ferguson said.

He noted that Interstate 81 leads from the Northeast to the Midwest and Interstate 26 goes right past BMW’s manufacturing facility in South Carolina, down to the port at Charleston.

“Our prime location and low-cost electricity has been a factor as we recruit companies supplying to BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and Nissan,” Ferguson said.

He said another major factor is the region’s work force experience in plastics and rubber production.

“Together, plastics and rubber manufacturers account for nearly 9,000 regional jobs,” he said.

The region’s existing industries are an important part of the equation. For instance, in mid-2007 Eastman Chemical Co. committed to spend $1.3 billion as part of a plan to upgrade and expand its Kingsport location. Called “Project Reinvest,” the plan built a stronger partnership between Eastman and Northeast State Technical Community College.

“Our hope is this partnership between one of Tennessee’s largest employers and our higher education system will become a model for developing the work force of the future in our state,” said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Through the partnership with Eastman, Northeast State developed custom programs which trained mechanics, lab analysts and chemical operators.

Eastman also joined forces with paper manufacturer Domtar to create the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing in downtown Kingsport. The new center houses training and apprenticeship programs as well as Northeast State’s electrical, mechanical and technical degree programs.

Other companies have also committed to the region. DTR Tennessee Inc., with 1,500 employees and an investment of $200 million in the region, supplies anti-vibration and hose products to Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Ford.

“We were looking for a location in the Southeast since a lot of our customers moved here,” said Cal Doty, DTR vice president for Human Resources. “We looked around all over and felt most comfortable here because of the work force and the economic development folks who assisted us in finding property.”

Ferguson said economic development is a marathon, “not a 100-yard dash.”

“So when you view our region over a 10-year period, some really great things have happened,” he said.

“As the economy recovers, we are still trying to understand which industries will be winners and losers. We expect the automotive sector to grow and come back, along with rubber and plastics. We are working to prepare our work force for the demands of tomorrow so that our region can continue to be a Top 10 Midsized Market,” Ferguson said.

According to Southern Business & Development magazine, the top 10 midmarkets in the South based on points earned in the annual SB&D 100 over the last 10 years are:

1. Huntsville, Ala.

2. Baton Rouge, La.

3. McAllen, Texas

4. Tri-Cities, Tenn.

5. Gulfport/Biloxi, Miss.

6. Knoxville, Tenn.

7. Little Rock, Ark.

8. Mobile, Ala.

9. Tulsa, Okla.

10. Charleston, S.C.

Southern Business & Development magazine is the leading publication promoting corporate investment and job creation in the American South, the world’s fourth-largest economy. The magazine’s Web sites are www.sb-d.com, www.southernautocorridor.com, and www.smalltownsouth.com.

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