(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a three-part series discussing a transition underway at the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Education, particularly preparation of individuals for the workforce, is something that is near and dear to Ron Hammontree’s heart. He’s a former top administrator with the then Tennessee Department of Labor who returned home full-time in 1982 after one of those multi-year commuting stints to and from Nashville.
“I drove through the Tellico West Industrial Park one weekend when I was home,” the outgoing Executive Director of the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency (TRDA) told us in a recent interview. “A training center had been built, and Hiwassee College was running it, but they were not doing much.”
The region was also experiencing significant job losses at the time, both at the Aluminum Company of America which drew workers from many counties and in the textiles factories around Tellico Plains.
Hammontree saw an opportunity to address the problem and convinced the late Otis Floyd, then Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, to provide funding for something called the Tellico Education Consortium. The alliance would involve three community colleges – Cleveland State, Pellissippi State and Roane State – plus what is now known as the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Athens.
“The focus was on training for the new types of factory jobs,” Hammontree said of the initiative that would also help a then fledgling boating industry grow in the industrial park. “We called the curriculum ‘Fundamentals of Technology.’ Way back then, we had a mechatronics program.”
For the next five years, Hammontree was a Cleveland State employee, running a growing educational initiative that included what he describes as a “CC Camp for Youth,” a GED (general education degree) offering, and even an LPN (licensed practical nursing) program.
“At one time, we had 700 students in all of the programs,” he said.
When the top position at TRDA opened-up, Hammontree was selected, besting about 360 other applicants. “The board knew me,” he says. “Since then, I’ve seen it (the industrial park) bloom.”
What about the progress pleases him the most?
“My greatest satisfaction is being a part of providing jobs,” Hammontree says, explaining that about one-half of the workforce in the park live in Monroe County and another 20 percent each live in Blount and Loudon Counties.
He’s also very pleased with the current educational programming including Cleveland State’s new campus that is located in the former meeting space of a hotel located in the industrial park. “It was like pulling teeth at times, but what we did laid a foundation,” Hammontree says. “It’s meaningful.”
During the severe economic downturn of a decade ago, the boating industry took a big hit, but it has comeback in a big way. Every 34 foot long or under boat that Sea Ray sells is manufactured in the Tellico West Industrial Park as are all of the jet boats that Yamaha produces. Hydra Sports is manufacturing a boat that sells for $3 million.
NEXT: Thoughts on the transition.