Economic development means embracing change, assuming risk

Published 10:59 am Monday, June 6, 2016

Our View
The Carter County Commission and Mayor Humphrey’s office agreed on a compromise Thursday evening setting the salary of his administrative assistant at $40,000 rather than his proposal of $50,000.
The mayor has proposed bringing economic development under his office and making his administrative assistant, Susan Robinson, the director. We are not sure this is the right route to take, but time will tell.
Mark Twain said that all people with ideas look like crackpots until their ideas succeed, and then they are called geniuses. In every case, that is what we have.
There is no silver bullet nor overnight fix to bringing new and better paying jobs to our county. Local residents have been frustrated by the lack of economic development in the city and county. Most agree that it’s time for an economic development success story, more than a new hamburger joint.
There is work to do, and if we don’t do it, it won’t be done. New jobs just don’t happen. First, we must demonstrate a willingness to embrace change and assume risk. Big factories are not likely to locate here. We must develop our own jobs and develop businesses from within, which will require an assessment of our economic development assets. What do we have to offer new businesses — trained workers, low tax rates, limited regulations, good infrastructure, professional services? However, we as a small community cannot stop there. Given limited sources of competitive advantages, we must redefine economic development assets in a much broader framework.
Again, we must look within. We must do things to bring more tourists into town.
Carter County and Elizabethton have so much to offer — resources we take for granted. We have two state parks, a TVA lake, great hunting and fishing opportunities, kayaking and rafting, hiking, and the Tweetsie Trail.
We have a historic downtown and prominent cultural and heritage assets. We are home to Milligan College and next door to East Tennessee State University and the Veterans Administration Hospital. We have one of the best small airports in the state.
Local people using local assets can make it happen. But, we must have the right people doing it, and it takes time to get things like this off the ground.
We can never emphasize enough the role that leaders play in economic development — from country commissioners and city councilmen to the mayors of the city and county, through what they say and do, to how the community views itself and its opportunities for development. Our leaders must be willing to invest in the future, have a strong belief in and support for education, and realize the importance of sophisticated use of information resources.
We cannot emphasize enough the need to try new things and take new risks. We must become proactive. Carter County residents tend to be individualistic, free thinking, pragmatic and cautious with money. Newer residents tend to be retirees, more educated and involved in the arts. Put the two groups together, and certainly some new ideas can emerge.
Most recently the City took ownership of the Bonnie Kate Theater. With a little work and a creative director, the theater could once again be a weekend venue for entertainment. Why not another weekly Barrel of Fun show?
How about a river walk along the Doe or Watauga, which would provide access to catch-and-release trout fishing and include handicap-accessible fishing platforms?
Why not do more to promote the weekly car show in downtown Elizabethton and the Monday night cycle cruise in? We need to sponsor events and festivals that create community cohesiveness and bring tourist dollars into local businesses. Events keep Elizabethton in people’s minds eye. The more we as a community can do to get people thinking and talking about their community, the better.
We in Carter County share a sense of place and history that sets us apart from others in Northeast Tennessee.
Heritage, the arts, and tourism can lead to great economic outcomes. In a town such as ours, small steps can lead to giant strides. Are we willing to take that first step?

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