NETWORKS reports surge in new business prospects in June

Rick Wagner • Jun 20, 2014 at 7:46 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership continues moving ahead with its new branding campaign and renewed focus on new and existing business and industry, according to new Chief Executive Officer Clay Walker. Thursday's NETWORKS full board meeting marked the second one for Walker, who joined NETWORKS in January to replace Richard Venable. NETWORKS is a joint venture of Kingsport, Sullivan County, Bristol and Bluff City. During a report to the board, meeting as usual at Northeast State Community College, Walker began with a log for "Where Tennessee begins its business day," the new branding of NETWORKS, and then said prospects in June were 23, up 10 from 13 prospects in June of last year. Aside from a possible economic upturn, he attributed the change to the state Department of Economic and Community Development, TVA and NETWORKS working to generate and serve new prospects. Walker also said the new existing business initiative, called FIRST (focus, innovation, respect , synergy and together), is designed to have a more concerted effort with the cities. Group meetings starting in September in Kingsport, Bristol and Piney Flats are to be the core of the program, he said. The program also will coordinate one-on-one meetings and include a survey and newsletters, industry appreciation activities and corporate headquarters visits. Later this year, Walker said NETWORKS is partnering with the Tennessee Economic Partnership for a Red Carpet Tour, Aug. 21-24, coinciding with the night NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The "Start Your Engine" event, seeking via invitation 15 nationally known site location consultants, will go to Eastman Chemical Co., the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Bristol Tennessee Electric Services, a local legal moonshine maker and, of course, the night race. Walker said he's also been using Twitter to promote NETWORKS and the area. Venable retired as NETWORKS CEO and shortly thereafter sought the Republican nomination for Sullivan County mayor, a position he once held. Venable won, defeating incumbent Mayor Steve Godsey in the May p r i m a r y. Both primary rivals attended Thursday's meeting. Venable did not speak, but Godsey did, lauding the work of J.A. Street and Associates Inc. — the company of outgoing NETWORKS Chairman Jim Street — for getting a Tennessee award for redevelopment and re-use of the old David Pipe brownfield property along state Route 126 between Blountville and Bristol. Back in mid-May, Street's company received the 2014 Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award for Excellence in Land Use. The David Pipe site was in use from 1977 to 2004 for fabrication of welded stainless steel and alloy pipe and fittings. A church outreach program operates on part of the property. "We took it over to make money, but instead we got an award," Street quipped. Godsey said the public-private partnership, involving Birth Street Properties LLC, shows issues with brownfields are "not a battle you can't win." Mitch Walters, the current NETWORKS vice chairman, is to be chairman at the August NETWORKS meeting. The board also approved the draft 2014-15 budget for $620,000, which is $80,000 short of available revenues of $700,000.

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