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Business & Technology

NETWORKS anticipates 50 new jobs for Sullivan

June 21st, 2012 11:10 pm by Rick Wagner

BLOUNTVILLE — Richard Venable has great economic news. The only problem is he can’t share names or most other details yet.

Venable, CEO of NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership, said one new business that has committed to coming to Sullivan County is bringing 20 jobs and $500,000 in capital investment, while an existing business is committed to expanding by 30 jobs and planning a $15 million investment.

“Both projects have been in the hopper for six to eight months,” Venable said, adding that both have requested not to be publicly identified yet.

One potential project Venable said he could talk about is a long-term idea of putting a veterans nursing home at Partnership Park III, also know as Gateway Commerce Park near what is to become Tri-Cities Crossing near the intersection of Interstates 81 and 26.

Venable said talks are ongoing with the Tennessee Veterans Nursing Home Association about a site in the park, working with a regional group headed by former state Sen. Carl Moore and Sullivan County Commissioner Bill Kilgore.

Venable said 2012 results through June 18 on the NETWORKS Scorecard indicated 60 new jobs and $16 million in capital investment, compared to a goal of 560 new jobs and $38 million in capital investment.

Director of Economic Development Jack Lawson said other projects also are pending, including possible expansions planned at the Tri-County Industrial Park in Piney Flats. Director of Business Development Betty Martin said staff are working with some projects on a daily basis.

“I’m excited sometimes because I know things I can’t say,” Venable said of prospects in Bristol, Kingsport and other parts of the county.

NETWORKS members heard a program Thursday presented by, a start-up LLC that began in late 2006, had its first sale in early 2007, and moved from Johnson City to the Tri-County Industrial Park, where it employs 19 workers and has paid to date $238,203.80 in taxes to Sullivan County. It had $3.6 million in sales the first year and has grown to an estimate of more of $12 million this year, said Matt Burgess, senior vice president.

Bill Bradley founded the business, which has sold 47,000 mattresses so far, has had a 38 percent increase in sales compared to last year, and has had $40 million in gross sales.

Burgess explained that Bradley developed a machine that squeezes mattresses down to easily shipped boxes, using 115,000 pounds per square inch. The boxes arrive in the continental United States and most parts of Canada in one to five days, and the mattresses are back to full size and ready to sleep on a few minutes after opening.

Sales are about 99 percent Internet, but Burgess said the company is expanding into pillows and foundations, plans to launch a national television campaign, and opened a local showroom in Piney Flats May 10.

Also Thursday, NETWORKS Marketing Committee Chairman Larry Estepp said the committee has shortened a promotional video to three minutes and had it put on 2 gigabyte flash drives and is proposing to spend about $30,000 to help promote 140 additional acres for Aviation Park after a road is relocated. He said the hope is Tri-Cities Regional Airport owners and other entities will chip in enough for a $100,000 effort.

As for the 2012-13 budget, because Thursday’s meeting lacked a quorum Venable said NETWORKS would operate in the new fiscal year starting July 1 based on current funding levels. Kingsport has approved its budget, but Sullivan County has not. Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City also provide funding for NETWORKS, all in proportion to their respective populations.

On another matter, board Chairman Bill Locke, retired president of Northeast State Community College, said the NETWORKS Executive Committee at its next meeting will consider forming a blue ribbon task force to look at the organizational and staffing structure of NETWORKS, with the goal of getting a report and recommendations within a year.

“There’s no particular reason to do this except we’ve been in business for a while,” Locke said.

Venable said he agreed with Locke’s position, pointing out that NETWORKS at its 2004 formation grew out of a blue ribbon task force.

“Self-examination is the way you get better,” Venable said.

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