Next city manager must be equipped to take the community to the next level

Published 9:11 am Monday, March 5, 2018

Elizabethton City Manager Jerome Kitchens this week announced his intentions to retire next month. Kitchens has served as city manager for five years and has proven to be a steady hand at the helm of city government. The all important question: What happens next?
As Elizabethton leaders look for a new leader during the coming weeks and months, they must focus on development opportunities that will spur continued growth. Leaders must quickly set an agenda of priorities that capitalize on the momentum the city currently has and address key areas where progress is lacking.
Elizabethton is moving in the right direction. However, we need to pick up the pace of development and work to attract more major employers.
Small businesses are creating most of the new jobs and opportunities in our community. We have the elements of a good infrastructure that can help meet the needs of business, but we need to deepen that to make sure that we are capturing the range of businesses that are out there. Small businesses add jobs and add to the wealth of our community. As new businesses sprout up around us, our neighborhoods grow and as neighborhoods grow, the city grows.
We need to do more to help our “blighted” neighborhoods with more and better sidewalks, incentives to fix up and rebuild.
The most successful communities are the ones that have strong leadership — and are preparing the next generation to lead. We must develop new leaders and give them an opportunity to lead. We must collaborate more with neighboring cities, pool resources, and identify strengths and weaknesses that we can work together on.
We must continue to invest in quality of life programs. This includes making our school system among the best in the state, investing in recreation, expanding child care, encourage regional cooperation to support the arts, support our community hospitals, giving doctors, engineers, teachers and others who graduate from local universities and colleges incentives to stay here, give more support to entrepreneurs to start restaurants, brew pubs, and other entertainment options.
It’s OK to believe that Elizabethton deserves nice things and deserves a piece of the economic puzzle. Let’s stop thinking “nice things” are a waste of money.
We have some things in our town — the Elizabethton Airport, the Tweetsie Trail, Milligan College, Sycamore Shoals State Park, Watauga River, community parks, and an unmatched historical heritage. It’s time we capitalize on these things and use them to promote our community.
Had you told the people of the 1940s and 1950s Elizabethton that most of the city’s thriving factories would be abandoned before the turn of the century, they would have found it hard to believe. After all, this was a town where, at its peak, industry provided jobs for most of its residents. Like many of the state’s smaller cities, Elizabethton has struggled to make the transition from traditional industry to the global economy.
Yet, despite the challenges, Elizabethton like other small towns around the state has found a way to overcome the innate disadvantages of size and a small treasury to lay the groundwork for growth. In the past all that took was sweat equity. In a complex, globalized information economy, social equity is required, as well.
Now is the time for aggressive leadership, someone who is willing to take the challenge to move the city to the next level. There is no excuse not to.

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