Questions about the WTC surfaced after Tim Siglin, who headed the WTC effort, left the organization earlier this year.
The local MountainSouth World Trade Center is still "alive and well," says Andy Burke, but its strategy and mode of operation are up in the air.
Burke is chief executive officer of the Regional Alliance for Economic Development, which holds the World Trade Center license. He said his team is evaluating the operations of several World Trade Centers around the country. Eventually, the alliance's executive committee is expected to approve a new strategy for the local WTC.
Questions about the WTC surfaced in the community after Tim Siglin, who headed the WTC effort for the alliance, left the organization earlier this year.
Burke said a replacement will eventually be hired. But the alliance first plans to re-evaluate the WTC's strategy before bringing someone new on board.
"Certainly there will be somebody who will be the point person for the World Trade Center. ... We just felt like we needed to go back and re-evaluate," Burke said.
"It's not like something is going away. No - it's a very important part of our whole international effort. It's just that we want to make sure that what we're doing will have some value," Burke said.
The alliance has a lot invested in the World Trade Center. It all started in 2004, when a local grass-roots organization called the Kingsport International Networking Group (KING) traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend the World Trade Centers Association annual meeting. While there, the KING group paid $25,000 to secure the option to purchase the WTC license, which costs a total of $200,000.
A year later, the Regional Alliance - an organization of local businessmen and community leaders - acquired the option from KING and paid the remaining $175,000 for the full license to operate the WTC.
On top of the initiation fee, the alliance now must pay another $10,000 a year in WTCA membership dues.
So what's the region gained from the investment?
Burke said the principal benefits are all related to the "soft side."
"We're listed as a prominent member of the World Trade Centers Association. We've got visibility on a worldwide scale," Burke said.
"That's all well and good from our effort to identify and help position this region in the global marketplace, but at the end of the day, what you're really after is - how can you utilize that particular asset to help grow companies and expand companies and attract companies to your local area? That's what it's all about. It's a marketing tool," he said.
As part of the New York-based World Trade Centers Association, the MountainSouth WTC is linked to nearly 300 World Trade Centers around the globe. The affiliation is designed to help businesses here connect to potential trading opportunities around the world to promote economic development.
The local WTC covers a 75-mile radius from Tri-Cities Regional Airport and includes Northeast Tennessee, Southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, southeastern Kentucky, and the southern tip of West Virginia.
The WTC is designed to offer various services to help businesses throughout the region get involved in international trade. It's also expected to participate in trade missions here and abroad.
Burke noted it's been just a short time since the alliance acquired the license to operate the WTC. He said the effort is a "long-term process."
"You have to sustain it over a long period of time," Burke said. "We've just got to figure out what's the best operating plan, and who needs to be involved. And that's what we've been doing over the last couple of months, is evaluating a number of World Trade Centers around the United States to see what is the best and most effective way to utilize this asset that we have."
He said that in economic development, "you're constantly evaluating your strategy and your tactics, and you have to make adjustments in midstream, and then refocus your financial assets and the money that you have to spend."
"On a daily basis, especially in an economic development organization - they're always under-funded and understaffed - you have to make sure that you're getting maximum benefit out of the dollars that you're spending, Burke said.
"So whatever you do, whether it's the World Trade Center or work force (development) or marketing, you've got to evaluate that every day."
The MountainSouth WTC is housed at the alliance office in the Northeast Tennessee Business Park near TCRA.
For more information on the alliance or the MountainSouth World Trade Center, visit the Web site at www.alliancetnva.com.