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Business & Technology

NETWORKS board supports drug testing for work force training

August 17th, 2012 2:40 am by Rick Wagner

BLOUNTVILLE -- Welfare may not be the only thing you could lose because of illegal drug use in Tennessee.

Eligibility for work force development training in Tennessee could be contingent on a clean drug test if the NETWORKS -- Sullivan Partnership board has its way.

NETWORKS is a joint economic development effort of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol and Bluff City.

The NETWORKS board unanimously voted Thursday to ask state lawmakers in the 2013 session of the General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow drug testing for those receiving work force training.

Tommy Olterman, Tennessee Valley Authority project manager for economic development in the Northeast Valley region, said testing is not allowed until those trained either apply for a job or are already on the job.

For that reason, he said some folks are getting work force training and learning things, only to be blocked from jobs or lose them later because of positive drug testing results for illegal drugs or for legal drugs obtained without a prescription.

Iliff McMahan, the state's regional director for economic development, said he agreed that lawmakers need to know the NETWORKS board's position on the matter and that it is a top priority for the board.

NETWORKS Board Chairman Charlie Floyd, manager of the Domtar paper mill in Kingsport, said the idea is all about "growing jobs and business in Northeast Tennessee."

Lee Shillito, president and CEO of Triad Packaging in Bristol, made the motion for the board to go on record supporting changes requiring anyone getting work force training to undergo drug testing.

Larry Estepp, a banker from Kingsport, seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

After the meeting, NETWORKS CEO Richard Venable said the letter would ask lawmakers to make such a change while staying inside the limits of state and federal law.

The Tennessee General Assembly this year approved legislation requiring welfare recipients to be subject to drug testing.

In other action at the NETWORKS board meeting:

•The NETWORKS Scorecard shows $19.5 million in capital investment and 90 jobs for projects in which NETWORKS was involved so far this year.

The August Scorecard reported 30 jobs from new businesses and $1 million in capital investment through Aug. 13.

•Venable gave a report on the Tri-County Industrial Park in Piney Flats, which began with 783 acres of land in 1967-70. The original partners were Sullivan County 50 percent, Johnson City 25 percent, Carter County 12.5 percent and Elizabethton 12.5 percent. The first business was Amerace Microporous Products, which opened there in 1970.

Later, Sullivan County bought out Elizabethton's 12.5 percent share, and Bristol bought Carter County's share.

Of just more than 803 acres today, about 733.5 are suitable for use. Of those, all are in use but 24.76 acres still available and five vacant buildings. Of the 24.76 acres, however, less than 20 percent is usable for development.

As of this month, 43 employers provide jobs for 2,229 people, the largest being Bell Helicopters with 350 employees, and HSN, formerly known as the Home Shopping Network, with 291 employees.

The annual payroll of the businesses is almost $66.9 million, and local taxes paid are just more than $1 million a year.

The 1 million-square-foot HSN building, the former Fingerhut facility, has its own ZIP code.

Aside from automotive, chemical and building suppliers, the park also includes a cemetery where those killed during the Civil War are buried, a casket plant, a shooting range, and a block plant.

Johnson City provides water, Bristol sewer, electric is split between Bristol Tennessee Essential Services and the Johnson City Power Board, and Atmos Energy provides natural gas. The Piney Flats Volunteer Fire Department provides fire protection

•Venable and other economic development officials said industrial park sites across the county are or will be submitted for the Select Tennessee program, a clearinghouse of sorts for parks that are ready for business and industry to locate in existing buildings or build on for their needs.

To be approved, sites must have a recent Phase 1 environmental study with core drillings and other verified information.

Those applying to be in the program include Partnership Park I near Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Partnership Park II in Bristol, Partnership Park III or the Gateway Commerce Park in Kingsport, and the Bristol Industrial Park.

Two airport parks, Aviation Park I with 25 acres and another 140-acre area available after Hamilton Road is moved, also are seeking certification, airport Executive Director Patrick Smith said.

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