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February 08, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Final ECD Regional Strategies summarized

(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. On February 8, we followed-up with another article focused on two of the four action items to implement the plan. This article summarizes the remaining two action items.)

Kirk Huddleston, ECD’s Regional Director for East Tennessee, and Jill Van Beke, the region’s newest Business Development Consultant, speak passionately about the critical importance of workforce development to the success of the region’s plans.

Huddleston is a Middle Tennessee native who has lived and worked in business development in Knoxville for years. Van Beke and her husband moved to the region eight years ago. It was his hometown, but not hers. She now considers it “home” and, as a parent, views workforce development as being so critical to “having homegrown and home growing” businesses.

Regardless of the specific action item in the regional plan, both Huddleston and Van Beke emphasize the importance of collaboration among the region’s stakeholders.

“Everything we do – whether recruitment, existing industry, innovation or workforce – relates to collaboration,” Van Beke said. She emphasized the “team approach” that starts with elected officials but quickly added local chambers of commerce, local economic development organizations and others.

This philosophy and approach is particularly critical as ECD’s regional team approaches the action item related to current and future labor pool issues. The statewide ECD staff will be working closely with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DoL) and the local Local Workforce Investment Areas (LWIA). Tennessee has 13 LWIAs that are clusters of counties whose labor market and other employment related factors are similar.

“There are three LWIAs that cover the 16 counties in our East Tennessee region,” Van Beke said. This adds both complexity and opportunity to implementation of the regional plan, but an overarching concern about “brain drain” drives her passion for the issue.

Van Beke uses the verb “proactive” and the term “partner” to describe the approach that the East Tennessee ECD team is taking in engaging with the DoL and the LWIAs. She says that the team needs to better understand the workforce development players in the region, their individual responsibilities and current priorities, and the resources at their disposal. This knowledge will help ECD’s team better serve companies with existing and future workforce needs.

The final action item is focused on enhancing the area’s unique and strong innovation assets.  These include the University of Tennessee (UT), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12).

As part of its Jobs4TN strategy, ECD funded nine regional organizations to help “accelerate” the commercialization of technologies and the creation of jobs. The Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UT led a consortium of more than 40 partners that won the grant for this area and created an alliance called the East Tennessee Regional Accelerator Coalition (ETRAC). (EDITOR’S NOTE: An overview of the ETRAC program was posted on January 26.)

Huddleston and Van Beke view the region’s strong technology generators – UT, ORNL and Y-12 – as extremely valuable resources for both East Tennessee and other regions of the state.

“They can be both intra-region and inter-region assets” in helping achieve ECD’s overall goals, they said.

Since they are new to state government, Huddleston and Van Beke have been pleased with how much good work is already underway in the region, particularly in recruitment and existing industry areas.

Van Beke said that the plan really encompasses the good work the department was already doing and that we certainly didn’t start from scratch developing our strategies.

Huddleston said that “it’s about moving forward (on the key strategies) and executing.”

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