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New Three-County Economic Partnership’s Capital Campaign Enters Public Phase

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A new public/private economic partnership whose goals include bringing nearly 4,000 good-paying jobs to Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties by 2022 has begun the public phase of its fundraising efforts.

Known as the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NeTREP), the new organization unifies for the first time economic development efforts in the three counties comprising the Johnson City metro area. Private and public-sector leaders from across the area, which has a population of 200,000, already have committed $5.1 million toward a $5.5 million, five-year funding initiative to help underwrite the economic and community development program.

“The program goals are bold but achievable if we all work together,” said Ron Scott, president and CEO of Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union (ACFCU), a member of the Washington County Economic Development Council (WCEDC) executive committee and Partnership 2021 campaign chairman.  “Partnership 2021 is a valuable investment in our community. Creating jobs and capital investment, developing our workforce, recruiting new business and retaining our successful industry are all valuable outcomes of this initiative.”

Several local businesses have for the first time made significant investment commitments in regional economic development, citing the importance of an approach that leverages the different strengths each part of the metro area brings to the whole.

“The public sector’s interest in collaborating across jurisdictions through a new economic partnership was a strong signal to Mullican Flooring that our public officials are ready to market this great area as a whole,” said Mullican President Neil Poland. Mullican has made its first direct financial commitment to area economic development with the advent of NeTREP.

“We believe additional private-sector voices at the economic development table are important, and that a focus on attracting new talent, jobs and capital to this beautiful region will spur a stronger economy and create tremendous future growth opportunities,” Poland added.

Funds raised through Partnership 2021 will provide private and public resources and will fund initiatives that better prepare the region to compete for economic development projects. Those initiatives will focus on retaining and expanding existing industry, aggressively marketing the region, site development and infrastructure, developing the metro area’s outdoor assets, and talent attraction/workforce development.

In addition to 3,750 primary jobs with an average salary of $56,413, NeTREP’s initial five-year goals include $100 million in capital investment, a focus on attracting talented newcomers, and marketing the area’s natural beauty and wealth of outdoor opportunities.

“Strategic and proactive economic development for the metro area is key to our success as a progressive and strong regional community," ACFCU’s Scott said.

Scott said a number of assets put the region in a good position to grow. They include superior transportation, low taxes, skilled workers, a successful regional airport, re-energized downtowns, and exciting and unique outdoor recreation.

The regional focus has been embraced by leaders in Carter and Unicoi counties, as well as the cities of Elizabethton and Erwin. Those governments have committed economic development funds to the NeTREP in recognition of the enhanced opportunities a regional approach brings.

“Leaders of the WCEDC approached our community’s leaders respectfully and showed appreciation for the assets Erwin and Unicoi County would bring to a regional effort,” Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said. “They made a clear case for why each community within the metro area adds to the value of the whole and truly is dependent on the others if we’re to reach our collective potential. We’re excited about what will occur as everyone collaborates to achieve a brighter future for families and businesses throughout this beautiful region.”

With the assistance of Convergent NonProfit Solutions, a professional fundraising firm, the campaign’s “quiet phase” already has garnered $5.1 million in pledges. Of that total, $xxx,xxx is “new money,” representing investments from businesses that are new to directly funding economic development, or increased investments amounts from existing funding sources.

Convergent’s Chris Marshall will remain in the metro into the spring, seeking additional investors for NeTREP.  “Recognizing the current economic conditions, we felt we needed a consistent and concerted effort to help us reach the goal,” Scott said. “Convergent has been very successful in other regional communities and we liked their approach to our particular challenge.”  

Serving with Scott as honorary campaign co-chairs are Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge; Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey; Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch; Mountain States Health Alliance CEO Alan Levine; East Tennessee State University President Dr. Brian Noland; Milligan College President Dr. Bill Greer; Bill Greene, president of Bank of Tennessee; and Paul Farnor, citizen emeritus. Others serving on the campaign leadership team include Tommy Burleson, president of Burleson Construction; Chuck Perry, market president of Eastman Credit Union; Shane Abraham, president, Universal Companies; Neil Poland, president, Mullican Flooring; Rich Holder, CEO, NN, Inc.; David Crockett, Sr. vice president, SunTrust Bank; Joe Grandy, area sales manager, Ferguson Enterprises; and Bob Armstrong, vice president, First Bank & Trust.

For more information, please contact Chris Marshall, campaign director, or Curtis Montgomery, campaign assistant, in the campaign office at 423-202-3510.