(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a three-part series discussing a transition underway at the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“Ron’s been a mentor to me,” Bryan Hall says of the long-time Executive Director of the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency (TRDA) whom he is succeeding. “We’ve worked on many projects together, and I’m excited and humbled to step into his shoes.”
That transition is something that pleases Ron Hammontree, too. In the first article in this series, he simply said, “I knew he was the one to take my place.”
When we conducted a joint interview with the two at TRDA’s headquarters in Vonore, it was very apparent that their beliefs and priorities are similar. Hall captured it well when he said that “it’s the right time and right place for both of us. We think alike.”
Hall, who is current Director of Economic Development for Monroe County, and TRDA’s outgoing Executive Director have worked together closely for the past four years.
“I felt like I was already doing a third of the job,” Hall says. “My goal is to help continue and prosper this agency.”
Like his predecessor, the new TRDA Executive Director sees workforce development as a top priority. So, it is no coincidence that one of their collaborative efforts involved the expansion of Cleveland State Community College after TRDA sold its former training center to one of the expanding boating companies in the Tellico West Industrial Park.
“We tag-teamed on it,” Hall said.
In some respects, Monroe County, where TRDA is headquartered, has its own workforce challenges, but it also shares some with others across the broader region.
“Our unemployment rate is about three percent,” Hall says. That’s good, but also challenging news. “We have 500 unfilled jobs,” he notes, adding that drugs are a factor there as they are throughout the region. With land still available in the industrial park for new companies, availability of a reliable, skilled workforce becomes a critical element.
Hall asks, “What are we doing to train 80 percent of our high school graduates who will not go to college? That is our workforce of the future.”
One initiative with which he has been involved is promoting dual enrollment at the high schools. Another focused on changing the perception that young people have to leave the county to find good paying jobs.
“We talked our TCAT center (Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology) into doing dual enrollment,” Hall explains.
Those who work in the industrial park might commute as long as a one-hour drive. Getting more of them to live closer is a priority that involves championing the availability of more affordable housing than what is offered in the many retirement communities around Tellico Lake.
For now, Hall says he’s “picking Ron’s brain.” Even after the end of this month when Hammontree steps back to part-time work for TRDA, he’ll still be available to offer advice and help with some special projects.