ECD’s regional plan for East Tennessee leverages area’s strengths

In mid-December, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) released the regional economic development strategy for the 16 counties in East Tennessee and eight other regions in the state.

The 16 East Tennessee counties are Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union.

Completion of the regional plans culminated many months of work behind the scenes and with stakeholders across the state including a “top to bottom” departmental review led by ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

The review produced a new statewide plan for economic development in Tennessee titled “Jobs4TN” that outlined a set of key strategies. They included:

  • Identification of six key business clusters that give Tennessee a distinctive competitive edge, and on which the state should capitalize. The six key clusters are: automotive, chemical products and plastics, transportation, logistics and distribution services, business services, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing and energy technologies.
  • Reduction of business regulations.
  • Investments in innovation.
  • A departmental emphasis on helping existing business grow and expand in addition to adding resources and senior leadership talent to accomplish the long-standing goals of recruiting news businesses and jobs to the state.
  • A decentralized organizational model that divided Tennessee into nine distinct regions or “jobs base camps” that mirror the state’s development districts.
  • A commitment to develop unique strategies for each region that are based on the region’s distinctive strengths and challenges.

In releasing the regional plans, Commissioner Hagerty said that assets vary considerably across the state. “It is important that we address each region’s strengths and challenges individually, and the strategic plans help us do just that. Working with our local partners, we were able to develop plans specifically tailored to the needs of our nine regions.”

ECD’s East Tennessee regional team is led by Regional Director Kirk Huddleston and includes Jill Van Beke, Gary Human and Michelle Scarbrough as Business Development Consultants. Both Huddleston and Van Beke are new to state government, but familiar names in the local business community.

Van Beke speaks glowingly about how “exciting (it is) for me to have state government so involved” in helping improve the economic future of a region where she has worked in the private sector.

“We are aligning our state goals to take advantage of this region’s resources,” she says.

As might be expected, the plan for the East Tennessee region cites the University of Tennessee (UT), the U. S. Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge, and the Tennessee Valley Authority as major drivers of the regional economy. The plan also notes the importance to the region’s economy of the six industry clusters plus tourism, hospitality, entertainment and agriculture.

Van Beke notes that East Tennessee is very diverse and “the plan is a recognition of how rich our region is with resources.”

“With a strong heritage of scientific and technological breakthroughs, the East Tennessee region is well-positioned to be a hub of the Governor’s INCITE program,” the report notes. “The 16-county area is home to a rare combination of technology assets, research institutions and intellectual capital that position it to potentially develop a robust innovation-based economy. The region will focus on developing a stronger commercialization and entrepreneurship pipeline by better aligning the work of the region’s ECD-funded accelerator (East Tennessee Regional Accelerator Coalition or ETRAC) with commercialization activities occurring at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) and the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), and with entrepreneurial and commercialization activities occurring at the University of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF).”

The East Tennessee regional plan describes each of the counties, outlines regional strategies in four topical areas (recruitment, existing business outreach, innovation, and workforce development), and concludes with four key actions:

  • Support a familiarization tour of the region for ECD project managers, TVA target market specialists and site selection consultants.
  • Target the key suppliers, subsidiaries and partners of existing companies in the region for recruitment.
  • Enhance collaboration around innovation by facilitating quarterly meetings with key leaders from ETRAC, ORNL, Y-12, UT and UTRF.
  • Develop a communications strategy among the area’s local workforce investment boards, regional higher education institutions and industry representatives to effectively communicate the region’s workforce resources and requirements.

Upcoming articles posted on teknovation.biz will describe the ETRAC program and more fully outline the ECD regional actions.

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