It’s time to get serious about economic development

Published 8:37 am Monday, July 15, 2019

The Carter County Commission is having a difficult time of deciding who should be in charge of economic development and how much to pay for such services.
The Commission has more than once refused to approve a budget for the Carter County Planning Commission, which would include compensation for their work in economic development. Whether they just don’t want to pay for the services or have an axe to grind with County Planner Chris Schuettler is a question that needs to be answered, and then settled.
County Mayor Rusty Barnett, who admits he has no experience in economic development, said there are two possible solutions to the issue — hire someone to do economic development or put the responsibility back into the mayor’s office with the mayor’s executive assistant in charge.
The question we must ask: Is the county really serious about economic development? Is the Commission serious about bringing new businesses and jobs to the county? In today’s economy, we see jobs and employers following talented people and talented people living and moving to thriving places. This raises the question of how do we take the assets and attributes that are genuine for Carter County and build on them to attract both people and business?
Our suggestion is to hire someone who is experienced in economic development. People, businesses, and talent do not move to towns; they move to regions. So, any economic development effort must not only be focused locally but with an eye as how it works and fits in the larger region. That means local governments, schools, and the private sector must all work cooperatively together to market the region.
A very fundamental structural shift has occurred with economic development. In this new economic age, how one conducts business, governs and promotes economic development has changed.
In the latter part of the 1900s, we have lost most of our manufacturing jobs. While our unemployment remains low, so does the median income, and population-wise, we are not growing. We have a large number of people who are not working and who aren’t even looking for jobs. Opioid use is high among all ages. We have a lot of negatives despite the uptick in the economy.
The new economy is very competitive. Every other town, city and region in the world is now competing with Tennessee and Carter County for prosperity, for businesses, jobs, and talented people. So, we have to change the way we think, act and do business at every level in the public, private and nonprofit sectors in order to compete globally in the new economy. From research, we know that a transition from manufacturing to service jobs has occurred.
To be prosperous, we need to be increasing employment in those industries that are growing.
Currently, Carter County is hurt by a lack of cooperation and collaboration with other governments in the region. We need not only someone who knows how to do economic development, but someone who can step in and make regional collaboration a top priority and put their weight behind the effort.
And, we must be willing to pay them for their work. We get exactly what we pay for.
Are we serious about growing Carter County businesses and jobs? Are we serious about keeping our young people here? Are we serious about growing our tax base? If so, it is time to get off the pot and do something about it. It is time to quit hemming-and-hawing and take action.
If commissioners are not serious about economic development, they need not be on the commission.

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