City Council voices support for Carter County Tomorrow

Published 8:35 am Friday, December 11, 2015

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Some called it a pig and said it has yielded no results, while others said its replacement would be a costly, timely, senseless means of reinventing the wheel, but after a lengthy debate members of the Elizabethton City Council passed a resolution voicing their support for Carter County Tommorrow.
The Council heard numerous and varied opinions regarding a resolution to reaffirm its support for Carter County Tomorrow during the group’s meeting Thursday evening, but ultimately the resolution passed on a split vote with one member casting a dissenting ballot.
In light of recent criticism of the economic development agency and the ongoing litigation by the county against Carter County Tomorrow and the recently proposed but deferred motion by the County Commission to create a new economic development board, Councilman Richard Tester said he felt it necessary that the City show its support for the CCT.
“The motive of this resolution is to hopefully speak to the county and all the citizens of Elizabethton and Carter County that it is very vital for any economic growth to be collaborating and working together,” Tester said. “Hopefully in passing this resolution, they will see that we are opening our door and our arms to communicate better.”
The resolution encourages the government of Carter County to continue to communicate and participate in planning and operation of CCT.
However, three citizens spoke negatively of CCT, suggesting defunding it or requiring proof of accomplishments.
“If you take a pig, wash it up, put a pink bow on its ear and put it on the other side of the road, what have you got?” asked Robert Carol, a member of the Carter County Commission who represents the 8th District. “You can do anything you want to with Carter County Tomorrow, but it hasn’t done anything for the citizens of Carter County or Elizabethton since its inception.”
Carroll said no one has produced any documents reporting on the agency’s success and that it has taken money without giving residents a return.
CCT receives $35,000 annually from the city and $40,000 annually, though it has not received funding from the county since July 2015. Members of the agency’s board work on a volunteer basis.
Tester, who also serves as the chairman of the CCT board of directors, provided councilmen with an outline of accomplishments in recruiting and retaining jobs, Workforce Development Complex improvements and other CCT financial information.
The list cited 80 new jobs with the expansion at Snap-On Tools, 75 new jobs with Fidelitone Logistics, 50 jobs with Highlands Group, Borla expansion and addition of 481 new jobs, contributions to the West Elk master plan for the tax increment financing project and Roan Mountain sewer project, completion of a road in the Watauga Industrial Park and numerous improvements to the WDC.
Councilman Wes Frazier voted against the resolution, saying that in 10 years CCT has accomplished nothing, and numerous accomplishments on the list were unrelated to efforts by the economic development agency.
Frazier proposed the members of CCT joining with the Washington County Economic Development Board to have a stronger regional impact, noting its successes.
Councilman Jeff Treadway responded to suggestions of doing away with CCT by saying there is nothing to replace it that would not be nearly the same entity, and that competition is fierce for jobs everywhere.
“We have the vehicle here, if we need to ‘change the tire,’ then it is the perfect time to make adjustments,” he said. “We need to set expectations and hold the board accountable with measurable objectives. A recommitment by the entities that belong to this now to work together, to fund the entity, to do what we expect it to, that makes total sense to me.”
“I don’t see the benefit in reinventing the wheel to do the same thing,” he added.
In response to claims that CCT has done nothing, Charles LaPorte, one of the signers on the original CCT resolution, said economic development is not a destination, but a journey.
Others made the point that the national economy has been in a recession, and, as Treadway had said, competition for jobs and industries is “fierce.”
“It seems to me that Carter County Tomorrow has been made a scapegoat for a bad economy,” Treadway said.
In response to citizens’ complaints of no new jobs, especially in manufacturing, Treadway said jobs are not being created in manufacturing, but in the fields of technology, healthcare, and services.
“We’re not getting the plants back,” Treadway said. “They’ve moved to other countries.”
Mayor Curt Alexander said although some individuals are unhappy with some of the results, everyone must work together.
“We cannot continue to fight amongst ourselves,” he said.
Sam LaPorte said that if the county made a new economic development board, the same type of people would have to be on it, and half of the exact same people would still be on it. “What’s the purpose of this? If you get a flat tire, do you fix it or get a new car?” he asked. “It’s cheaper and quicker to fix the car.”
He said that it was setup with great intentions and is loaded with very intelligent people from the fields of industry, education, medical and financial as well as local mayors and members of county and city government.
Additionally, Sam LaPorte made the point that Tennessee Public Chapter 1101 requires that for a joint economic development board to receive grants, it must have representation from the county, municipalities and numerous private sector leaders.
“Whether you think it’s useful or not, it or something like it must exist to get grants,” Sam LaPorte said.
Tester’s list included grants received for the Carter County Board of Education for $7,400 and the City of Elizabethton for $17,500.
County Commissioner Danny Ward, who serves on the CCT board. called on local representatives to quit fighting, calling it “ridiculous.”
“It’s time to move forward, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
Treadway shared this sentiment. “Why are we looking at something else and not adjusting and fixing the vehicle that we have?,” Treadway asked. “If Carter County Tomorrow has failed, it’s a failure of the entities that support it, and we have either not demanded success or put the money and the effort in to make it successful.”

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