JOHNSON CITY - In keeping with recent efforts to study and maximize Johnson City's economy, the City Commission voted unanimously Thursday to take the next step in a consulting process designed to pave the way for the future.
The commission agreed to contract with Market Street Service Inc., an Atlanta agency, to continue the work it began with the recent Med Tech Corridor study that served as an awakening of sorts to what has both failed and succeeded with the city's corridor concept.
"Johnson City has wrestled with this corridor issue for going on 20 years," said Todd Smith, chairman of the Med Tech Corridor Task Force.
At a cost of $56,000 - the total will be split among the city, East Tennessee State University, Mountain States Health Alliance and, possibly, Washington County - though county officials have yet to sign on to the endeavor and were not a partner in the original Med Tech study, which came in at $90,000 - Market Street Services will expand their assessment efforts and deliver detailed recommendations on what will be best for the city.
"They're going to take a broader approach than just looking at Med Tech," Smith said while describing the public/private comprehensive economic development model approach.
One of the biggest issues contained within the original report, and one of main focuses of the new study, is that of governance. Because the city and county have multiple economic development agencies, several of which would seem to perform many of the same functions, Market Street recommended one entity to oversee Med Tech development and overall economical development functions.
Some have worried that hard feelings might result from the prospect of taking power or responsibility away from some agencies.
"I hate to use the word turf wars, but there is (the potential for that)," Commissioner Pete Paduch said. "Is the Economic Development Board going to feel like their toes are being stepped on?"
Smith stressed to the commission that a commitment to this approach would be in the city's best interests.
"Making it communitywide is critical, it's got to happen," Smith said. "We can't sit around and wait on economic development to come to us. That's not the way the business structure works anymore."
Likewise, Mayor Steve Darden said it would be best to have an outside party continue to look at what can be done better.
"This is a very meaningful way, in my opinion ... to have somebody look at our efforts and say, â€˜are we as coordinated as we need to be or are we looking at cross purposes?'"
In addition, Smith presented to the city some possibilities for new signage that would better identify the Med Tech Corridor and the city as a whole.
"We need to better identify where our city begins and where it ends," Smith said.
As for the corridor, Smith said the idea is to create a different type of signage that would immediately denote the city's Med Tech area.
"It would give it a unique flavor from the rest of the city," Smith said.