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May 06, 2020 | Tom Ballard

TN 1st using metrics to help state become best in nation for improving prosperity

Jason Hudson has a number of irons in the proverbial fire, but that’s clearly what the 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy wanted after his 2016 retirement as a Commander.

The Kingsport native is an entrepreneur, champion of the region and the state, and, as of late November, Economic Development Director for his hometown. The latter is on a contract which allows him to continue to pursue some of his entrepreneurial ideas.

We met Hudson at the 2019 “Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development” where he was promoting TN 1st, an organization he founded a little more than a year ago with a simple but significant goal: advance Tennessee to being the best state in the country for improved prosperity across all 95 counties.

Later, during an event we both attended in Johnson City, we learned more about Hudson’s drive, his entrepreneurial inclinations, and his passion for data.

The 2007 graduate of the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Master’s in Business Administration credits a stint as a Defense Fellow with then U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and his final two assignments with the Navy for instilling in him the importance of data-driven metrics.

After completing his one-year appointment with Senator Cochran, Hudson was responsible for developing the Navy’s human capital strategy for a workforce of more than one million positions comprised of active and reserve Navy and Marines, government civilians, and contractors. His final 27 months in the Navy was as a Deputy Commander responsible for 34 locations and 1,600 employees who conducted the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery and physical exams for all enlisted applicants entering military service.

“During those years, I started looking at comparative analytics,” Hudson says. After retirement, he became interested in a deeper dive on one area in particular – the U.S. News & World Report Best States Ranking that employs 70 different metrics to compare and rank states.

“How do you move the needle?” he asks, noting that Tennessee is ranked 30th overall, but as low as 43rd in two areas – healthcare and crime and corrections – while rising to first among all states in fiscal stability. “We have to find out what will move the needle” on the others.

Hudson emphasizes that his vision for TN 1st starts with “creating a collaborative environment to get people working together and focusing our resources of getting better than everybody else. We have to find partners who can do the deep dive and understand what can make a difference.”

Clearly, his interest in moving a state involves moving a region, something that aligns very nicely with his new role in Kingsport.

“The vast majority of metrics are going to be influenced by a more prosperous community,” Hudson notes. As Economic Development Director in Kingsport, he has a seat at the table to use his passion for metrics to develop strategies that will help move the needle in the community.

One might be the new federal “Opportunity Zone” program. Both TN 1st and the City of Kingsport, along with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, sponsored a workshop in December to examine ways to capitalize on the program.

TN 1st received a much-anticipated boost recently when the IRS confirmed its 501(c)(3) status.  “We filed our application more than a year ago,” Hudson says, “and it took almost a year to complete. With our letter in hand, we can now apply for grants and seek financial support that aligns with our mission.”

Advancing economic development and serving in a leadership role with a non-profit both require an entrepreneurial mindset.  Hudson is well positioned to serve his community, region, and state.

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