It takes money, endurance and a vision to drive local economy to desired destination

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Since my time in Elizabethton I have heard many talk about the need for new industry and especially high paying industry. While I certainly can see the need and desire for new industry, we must first take a step back and evaluate our economy and determine the feasibility of recruiting new industry.
Recently, Site Selection Magazine (a premier professional magazine read by professional site selectors and economic developers) listed the top criteria that industries look for when determining a location. In order they are: (1) state and local tax schemes, (2) transportation infrastructure, (3) utility infrastructure, (4) land/building prices and supply, (5) ease of permitting and regulatory procedures, (6) existing workforce skills, (7) local economic development strategy, (8) legal climate, (9) availability of incentives, and (10) state economic development strategy.
We must reflect on these criteria and ask ourselves can we provide these criteria better than anyone else in the region can? For some, the answer is yes, but when we get to number land/building prices and supply we have a problem — we have very little to offer.
On a scale of one consulting firm, many sites in our community rank as tier 1 on a scale of tiers 0 to 5. We have some land and some sellers who may be willing to sell the property, but neither Elizabethton, Carter County, Watauga, or Carter County Tomorrow have control of the property which is key to ensure the price of the property for an industry.
Industries typically will give priority to a site which is a tier 4 or tier 5. This requires the property to have environmental studies completed, all infrastructure including roads, water, sewer, gas, fiber optics, and electricity be brought directly to the site, any required permits acquired, and the site ready for immediate construction any day.
To get from where we are currently to a tier 4 or tier 5 site could take four or more years and, yes, it will take hundreds of thousands or even millions of public and private dollars, but the payoff of new industries and hundreds of new jobs is well worth the expense. Positive economic growth very rarely happens by chance. It takes time, money, endurance and a community with a vision to drive the local economy in the direction they desire.
Some people are for a county-wide economic development agency, some are for a regional, Tri-Cities-wide economic development agency, and still others are for doing little or no economic development. Whatever side you take, we must understand that we compete for capital, jobs, and businesses with every other city, every other county not only in the State of Tennessee, but in the nation and even the world. Regardless of which choice we make for the future of economic development in this county, our local economy will continue to develop in some direction with or without government assistance. The question is, will it develop into the economy we desire to have? The choice is ours. Let’s talk about it!
(Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He can be contacted at 542-1503 or by email at:

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox