NETWORKS board backs Opportunity Zone status for NET

Rick Wagner • Feb 22, 2018 at 9:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The economic development group for Sullivan County, which also does Hawkins County economic development under contract, has gone on record supporting the granting of Opportunity Zone status for qualified low-income census tracts in Northeast Tennessee.

The NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership board Wednesday unanimously voted to approve a draft letter, spearheaded by the Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union and involving 18 other nonprofit organizations and stakeholders, from NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker to Gov. Bill Haslam supporting the status. It would involve eligible tracts in the counties of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.

“There are 92 low-income census tracts eligible for this designation in the upper eight counties of the Northeast Tennessee region of our state,” Walker wrote. “The Opportunity Zone program was included in the 2017 federal tax reform package. It utilizes tax incentives to encourage private investment and opportunities in traditionally disadvantaged census tracts with the objective of generating prosperity into areas where it is most needed.” 

The eligible census tracts have an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, poverty levels of 22.5 percent, compared to 17.2 percent statewide, and a median household income of $34,979, nearly 28 percent less than the statewide average.

“Your Project 95 program recently yielded 100 much-needed jobs in Hancock County. Our belief is that many more such successes will be made possible through the Opportunity Zone designation,” Walker wrote.

The Kingsport and Bristol chambers of commerce, among other groups, have gone on record supporting the designations. 

On other matters, the board:

 — Heard Walker present the NETWORKS annual report at the meeting, which took the place of the January annual meeting which was canceled because of inclement weather. The document, titled “Partnerships Preparedness Professionalism,” is viewable online on the NETWORKS website, www.networkstn.com/. 

Walker said that for 2018 he sees a continuation of the trends in 2017: slightly fewer jobs created (about 500 in 2017 compared to an average of about 700 for the past few years leading up to that), higher paying jobs created, an increased number of projects and heavier investment. NETWORKS tracks only jobs, projects and infrastructure it had a hand in bringing to the area and does not count secondary jobs created as calculated through the multiplier effect, he said.

Approved the 2016-17 “clean” audit from Brown Edwards, which found no issues or problems. 

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