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February 07, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Two ECD Regional Strategies reviewed

(EDITOR’S NOTE: In its January 25 feature story, provided an overview of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s {ECD} regional economic development strategy for the 16 counties in East Tennessee. The article that follows is the first of two providing more details about two of the four action items to implement the plan.)

Kirk Huddleston, ECD’s Regional Director for East Tennessee, and Jill Van Beke, the region’s newest Business Development Consultant, are enthusiastic in talking about the ECD team’s strategies to help their 16 counties capitalize on the area’s unique strengths.

The two of them, along with ECD colleagues Gary Human and Michelle Scarbrough, are responsible for four key action items defined in the new regional plan for East Tennessee. They are quick to emphasize that success requires a team effort involving ECD working with local, regional and statewide organizations.

The four action items are: (1) a familiarization tour of the region for ECD project managers, TVA target market specialists and site selection consultants; (2) strategies to target and recruit suppliers, subsidiaries and partners of existing companies in the area; (3) facilitation of even more collaboration among the region’s technology generators; and (4) collaboration with a number of organizations including the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development on efforts to address the critically important topic of a qualified employee base.

These items have “certain similarities across the nine state regions, but we (each region) developed very region specific plans,” they said. The actual plans followed extensive “on the ground” discussions with partners and stakeholders.

“All four strategies are interrelated,” they said. “You can’t do one without the others.”

Van Beke said the first recommendation “that came out of our early discussions” was a familiarization tour of the region for ECD project managers, TVA target market specialists and site selection consultants. Human is “quarterbacking” this effort that will make sure the ECD, TVA and site selection visitors more fully understand and appreciate the region’s many assets.

The preliminary plan calls for the visits to occur in April and May over several days. Van Beke said that ECD plans to “personalize (the agenda) for those who are here.” She added that “the itinerary is a work in progress,” but she explained that the schedule for site selectors and staff from ECD and TVA who are familiar with East Tennessee region will be different than the agenda for those who do not have the same level of regional knowledge.

Van Beke said that one East Tennessee advantage they want to highlight is the value of access to and colocation with unique assets like the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

The second action item in the regional plan is focused on leveraging the area’s existing economic base to attract complementary companies.

Van Beke characterized it as answering the question, “Who is already here and who might benefit from recruiting its customers and suppliers to be closer?”

They believe “a great place to start is the six state-targeted clusters.” These are automotive; chemicals and plastics; transportation, logistics and distribution services; business services; health care; and advanced manufacturing and energy technologies.

“There are some game changing industry leaders here” that provide outstanding recruitment opportunities, Van Beke said. “We want to participate and add value” to the efforts of local economic development organizations to leverage these assets.

She noted that the East Tennessee region is not just competing with other communities in Tennessee but with 49 other states and many countries.

“You have to offer a value proposition to locate here,” she said. The ECD team believes that the region’s unique assets give it an “upper hand” if the right connections are made.

The other two strategies – enhancing collaboration and focusing on workforce development – will be covered in the next article in the series.

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