Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Commissioners debate economic development

A difference of opinion on what constitutes economic development preceded a vote by Washington County commissioners to purchase land near the current Industrial Park.
The Washington County Economic Development Board and the Johnson City Power Board recently offered to buy 67.35 acres adjacent to the Industrial Park for the county as a way of supporting business recruitment in the area.
While Mayor Dan Eldridge has said on multiple occasions that the purchase is coming at no cost to the county, Commissioner Mark Ferguson disagreed.
“I want to clarify — it will cost the taxpayers, by using money they gave to the Economic Development Board,” Ferguson said.
Eldridge said the money being used was given to the EDB 15 years ago by the county and the City of Johnson City for the sole purpose of buying land in the future.
However, Commissioner Joe Corso still questioned the purchase of land, seeking an answer for why it is necessary.
“The driving force is jobs, through existing employers and the recruitment of new businesses,” Eldridge answered.
Corso said he believes purchasing land for the recruitment of new companies is not the best way to handle economic development.
“It’s very competitive and we have a small chance of being chosen,” he said. “And remember, they left other communities; they’ll leave us, too.”
Instead, Corso said funds should be directed toward helping existing companies.
“Every part of the county should be connected to broadband,” he said, listing schools, the environment and historic areas as other worthy recipients of funding.
Ferguson agreed with Corso’s viewpoint on the recruitment of businesses.
“I’m going to say something that’s not going to be popular,” he said. “We spent $2 million from the General Fund putting two Jap plants in the Industrial Park, and how many have they hired from Washington County?”
Commissioner Pat Wolfe objected to the accuracy of Ferguson’s comment.
“We did not spend $2 million,” he corrected. “Most of it was state money.”
Eldridge, in a later conversation, affirmed the contributions made by the two Japanese companies — Koyo Corp. and Nakatetsu — to Washington County.
“They have added 90 jobs so far this year and 10 more are expected, with 60 additional jobs predicted for next year,” he said.
Corso was the only commissioner voting against the purchase of land for the Industrial Park. Eldridge said the county will now pursue federal and state funding for its development.