By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
John Campbell has been involved in economic development in one way or another his entire professional life, so his latest job is a continuation of that work.
The former City Manager of both Kingsport and Johnson City is the new Executive Director of AccelNow, the Northeast Tennessee accelerator affiliated with the Launch Tennessee network. He succeeded Interim Executive Director Kanishka Biddanda on October 1.
“Kanishka has done a really good job with the entrepreneurs,” Campbell said of his predecessor who has agreed to continue working with AccelNow as Entrepreneurial Coordinator.
When we caught-up with Campbell, he was days into his new role, one that he had not been seeking.
“I’ve always had a strong interest in economic development,” the new Executive Director said, noting that he started in Johnson City as Community Development Director.
So, how did he jump from a few weeks in retirement back into the fray?
“Miles asked me to look at it,” Campbell said in referring to Miles Burdine, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce where AccelNow is now housed.
At the time, Campbell had just retired as Kingsport City Manager and had been exploring several opportunities in the commercial real estate sector. However, his career is marked by decades of public service, and it seemed like a good opportunity for the Kingsport native to continue serving the region he has always called home.
During our discussion, Campbell referred on numerous occasions to the importance of making sure all of the stakeholders know the role of AccelNow as well as its ongoing activities.
“I’m trying to get to all of the local Economic Development Directors,” he said in ticking-off the names of the top professional leaders in each of the eight counties that AccelNow serves as well as other regional entities. Campbell’s list also includes the City Managers, and the Mayors of the cities and counties in the region.
“We have to make sure they know what is going on,” he emphasized. “We also have to educate the region on the role of a business accelerator.”
Campbell said a top priority will involve benchmarking the technology initiatives of other communities with which cities like Kingsport and Johnson City regularly compete. Those include two in North Carolina – Asheville and the Triad area; two in South Carolina – Greenville and Spartanburg; and Roanoke, VA.
The new Executive Director has clearly embraced AccelNow’s manufacturing priority that Biddanda cited in a recent teknovation.biz post.
“We have fantastic talent in our retirees,” Campbell says of the 500 retired engineers in the eight-county region. “Many devoted their careers to one company, but they are really experts. Between 100 and 150 have significant international experience.”
The retiree base complements the region’s other assets.
“We have so many support services for manufacturing,” Campbell said, citing the Advanced Visualization Lab at East Tennessee State University and the Regional Center for Applied Manufacturing (RCAM). “One of our tasks to develop a list of all the resources that are available for potential entrepreneurs.”
A recently developed resource is the Angel Roundtable, which is growing and already reviewing prospects for funding.
Campbell has already connected with Dwaine Raper, Solutions Consultant with the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services, and has Oak Ridge National Laboratory and its Manufacturing Development Facility on his radar.
Another opportune area is logistics.
“We have super strong positioning with two interstates, two railroads, and companies like Forward Air and Landair,” Campbell says.
The new Executive Director served as City Manager of Johnson City for 17 years before consulting in the private sector and holding the top position at NETWORKS, an economic development partnership of Bluff City, Bristol, Kingsport, and Sullivan County. He became Kingsport City Manager in October 2006.