KINGSPORT — The city of Kingsport may be placing a greater emphasis on young professionals by moving a local social and civic club under the wings of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and providing funding for a full-time director, marketing material and start-up costs.
Chamber and club members say the proposal would help with the recruitment, attainment and networking of young professionals. And while the Board of Mayor and Aldermen spoke in support of the effort, they did express some concern after hearing how much the move could potentially cost.
Members of the nonprofit organization Knetic came before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday afternoon to pitch the idea of its organization being integrated into the chamber, specifically the Move to Kingsport program.
Former Alderman Ben Mallicote made the argument on Tuesday, saying Knetic was created over the concern of young professionals not joining civic clubs in the same numbers as people in the past had done.
“It’s bad for the community since there’s no way to get the next generation of civic leaders and it’s bad for the individuals themselves. There’s no formal way to get plugged into the civic life of the community,” Mallicote said. “And we’ve found it’s bad for employers. A common refrain we’ve heard is “we can hire them, but we can’t keep them.”
“I think it’s a crying shame to bring all those students downtown, train them up and they all go away,” said Alderman John Clark.
Knetic was formed in 2005 as a social and community involvement group for young professionals and in the past have held fundraisers, clean-up events and social events within the city. However, in recent years the organization has stagnated and participation has fallen off; the last posting on the Knetic website is from two years ago.
Mallicote explained to the BMA why the organization has stalled.
“Limiting factors kept Knetic as effective as it could be. To do it right takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and commitment. The potential for burnout after a short time is very high,” Mallicote said of the volunteer leadership. “The second limiting factor is legitimacy. Without a stamp of legitimacy from the city or chamber, it was hard to get (corporate) buy in.”
According to a draft copy of the proposal, Knetic and the chamber are proposing for Knetic to be integrated within Move to Kingsport with a volunteer council for oversight, a full-time coordinator and a budget for marketing and event planning.
The draft budget included in the proposal calls for first-year funding of $73,800 with the coordinator’s salary in the $42,000 to $46,000 range. Funding has not been finalized or approved by the BMA and Chamber President and CEO Miles Burdine noted the budget is just a draft proposal.
Kanishka Biddanda, co-founder of the Creative Trust Agency of Kingsport, said the city does not have a network or conduit between businesses and young professionals.
“A dedicated position allows for much more planning, a conduit for solutions for young professionals, networking and community involvement,” Biddanda said. “It would be like trying to run Fun Fest with an all volunteer staff.”
Alderwoman Valerie Joh said the program would need a professional to oversee the program.
“You can’t just do it with volunteers,” she said.
Mallicote said moving Knetic to the chamber would augment the existing civic clubs in Kingsport and not replace them.
“We would urge our number to age-out of Knetic and not discontinue their civic involvement,” Mallicote said. “If done right, it would not weaken (the other civic clubs), but strengthen them.”
Other members of Knetic in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting included James Phillips (son of Mayor Dennis Phillips), John Vachon (Urban Synergy), Julie Pierson (Absolute Communications) and the VIP Seen magazine editors Angela Striligas and Brian Hullette.
While the BMA appeared supportive of the proposal, some members were concerned about the draft cost.
Mayor Phillips said he wholeheartedly supports the idea, but that the $73,800 amount “would not happen.”
“I think the city would feel comfortable to make an investment of some dollars,” Phillips said. “We might look at a little more initial seed money and then have it go to the private sector.”
Vice Mayor Tom Parham said he supports the concept of the program while Alderman Tom Segelhorst said could attest to the need and thinks it would have the support from local businesses.
Alderman Mike McIntire was more to the point, saying the program needs to be incentivized to let others help with the cost.
Phillips essentially directed City Manager John Campbell to work with chamber officials on the proposal.