NETWORKS: Veterans, military bring economic firepower to region

Rick Wagner • Feb 21, 2013 at 8:52 AM

KINGSPORT — The economic impact of veterans and the military, modern and 19th century, was a focus of Sullivan County economic development officials Thursday.

The NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership board heard from the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council on the impact of veterans’ disability payments on the region, a precursor to a study done in conjunction with East Tennessee State University that will look at the broad economic impact on the region.

The board also heard about a Civil War battle re-enactment on farmland in Blountville that NETWORKS is looking to use to attract industrial or business development — but which will be home to a tourism draw later this year.

Ernie Rumsby, president of the council formed in September, said statistics from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs show nearly $200 million a year in veterans’ disability pensions flows into the region, including almost $62 million into Sullivan County alone.

“Most of them are spending their money locally,” said Rumsby, a transplant to the area after he retired. He also said veterans make good employees. “They’re not going to come to work half an hour late and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you happy I showed up?’”

Sullivan, with 15,341 veterans, has $61,894,000 in disability payments, with Washington County at 10,476 veterans and $51,671,000, Carter County with almost 6,000 vets and $26 million; Greene with 5,400 vets and $23 million, Hawkins with 4,752 vets and $20,072,860; Unicoi with 2,000 vets and $7.5 million and Johnson with 1,800 vets and $7 million.

Rumsby said the study, to be done by John Smith of ETSU, will also track retirement payments to veterans, as well as the impact of the Veterans Administration medical facilities in Johnson City and likely the military munitions contracts that keep BAE Systems in the Hawkins County portion of Kingsport busy.

He and Army Capt. Michael Walters, the group’s vice president, said the nonprofit, bipartisan council is working to unite veterans groups, the business community and others in helping veterans, national security and economic vitality — specifically to promote veteran and military involvement in the Tri-Cities.

Walters is commander of Army recruiting for Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and part of Kentucky.

A similar group in Knoxville, which has existed for about 15 years, did a study that found an impact of $862 million, which Rumsby said would be higher than Northeast Tennessee.

The Tri-Cities council has a Web site, http://tc-mac.org/, and a Facebook page reachable by typing in the group’s name on Facebook. Membership, which is not limited to those with a military connection, is $100 for a corporate membership or $25 for an individual.

The NETWORKS board Thursday also learned that the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Blountville would be celebrated and re-enacted at the old Hawley Farm — now potential industrial land owned by NETWORKS near Tri-Cities Regional Airport and about 6.5 miles from the original downtown Blountville site of the battle.

The Sept. 6-8 event is expected to attract up to 1,500 spectators, which County Mayor Steve Godsey said in that scenario likely would include 1,200 from outside the immediate area. Those are folks who would seek area hotels and restaurants, Godsey said. After questions from NETWORKS board members, Godsey said NETWORKS Chief Executive Officer Richard Venable said the event would be promoted heavily.

NETWORKS is providing the land for the re-enactment, which he said is to draw about 100 re-enactors. It is being put together by the Sullivan County Department of Archives and Tourism.

Union forces won out over Confederates in the 1863 battle, in which cannon fire from both sides resulted in the burning of the Sullivan County Courthouse. The structure that was built to replace it after the war is still standing today.

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