BLOUNTVILLE — “Hyper-regionalism” could be a new buzzword for economic development in the Tri-Cities and beyond. It is a concept embraced by NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership officials Clay Walker and David Golden.
Their point is that regional cooperation and regional assets benefiting Sullivan County and its cities go beyond their borders to Johnson City and even Knoxville.
Both Walker, CEO of NETWORKS, and Eastman Chemical Co.’s Golden, NETWORKS board member, emphasized the idea during Wednesday’s NETWORKS full board meeting at Northeast State Community College.
NETWORKS is a joint economic development effort of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City and markets the Phipps Bend Industrial Park near Surgoinsville in Hawkins County.
During the meeting, the board also viewed an updated version of the NETWORKS branding and promotional video, which Walker said has had more than 500,000 views and promotes, among other things, Eastman’s $1.6 billion Project Inspire investment, Bristol Motor Speedway being the fourth largest U.S. sports venue and the region’s educational institutions.
Walker, chairman of the Tennessee Economic Partnership (TEP), said hyper-regionalism came up half jokingly recently with Knoxville economic development officials who participate in the Northeast Tennessee Red Carpet Tour each year at the fall BMS races and work closely on other efforts. Greene County is to participate this year and Blount County is considering, he said.
The point, Walker said, is that the local cities and counties need not worry so much about competition from one another but more about competition from other countries.
“We do it (expanded regional cooperation) regularly. It just doesn’t get out there enough,” Walker said.
Golden recently was elected vice chairman of the recently formed East Tennessee State University Board of Trustees. He said the tiny city-state nation of Singapore is an example of an international economic force, with economic development efforts led by physician friend Swan Gin Beh, and that the Tri-Cities must expand its definition of regional partners.
And education is key to economic development and quality of life, the latter of which is why Golden said ETSU was founded in 1911.
“Education is the lynchpin for everything we’ve come to view as indicative for a high quality of life,” Golden said, adding that he believes it was a good move allowing non-University of Tennessee four-year schools to have their own governance and the Board of Regents to concentrate on the two-year community colleges and one-year Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs).