By MARINA WATERS
It’s not unusual for Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy to team up with the Washington County Commission. But it is unusual that the commission and Grandy meet with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and the Sullivan County Commission — that is, until last week.
On Thursday, Oct. 18, the two county mayors and commissions met at the Tri-Cities Airport for a joint work session. Grandy told the Herald & Tribune that the meeting was held to focus on “regional cooperation” and to show the community that the two counties are ready to see what can be accomplished together.
“We’re looking at opportunities to create regional cooperation between Washington County and Sullivan County and the entire region,” Grandy said. “We have some issues of concern. Our workforce is a shared resource across all of our communities. So we’re looking for ways to improve that and make it better.”
Grandy noted that the Aerospace Park in Blountville was a project built on regional interest after Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport, Washington County and Sullivan County came together financially on the upcoming 160-acre industrial park. Through combined efforts as seen on the Aerospace Park, Grandy said he’s hoping the two groups can focus on bettering the region through areas such as economic development. And that work starts with a committee.
Grandy said the meeting was also held to show people that Venable and Grandy are serious about the cooperation and thus have started the planning process in forming a committee or task force made up of Washington and Sullivan County Commissioners and others throughout the Northeast Tennessee Region.
“I met with Mayor Venable this morning for really quite a long time to work specifically on (the committee). We’re in the process now of making recommendations, not only just with commissioners, but I think we’re going to include some strategic people across the counties that might add some value,” Grandy said. “The intent will be within the next few days or so to announce that task force or committee or whatever they want to call themselves to begin to work on some next steps. That’s the key, to keep this thing moving.”
Grandy said that the two mayors have come up with some initiatives they’d like to see come to fruition, but that it will the committee’s work that will track the course for the two groups.
But what does this mean for Washington County?
Grandy said for Washington County and its citizens, it’s all about getting better along with the region. And that includes aiding the declining growth throughout Northeast Tennessee.
“When the water in the harbor rises, all the boats rise,” Grandy said. “So if one county is doing well, the rest of us are going to be better because of it. So what does it mean for Washington County? We in this whole Northeast Tennessee Region (are) in a declining growth area. We feel like, working together, we can reverse that.”
If each entity within the Northeast Tennessee Region’s fate is tied together, Grandy said he feels embracing the joint work will help to better the region, namely Washington County.
“We believe that we’re going to be better together than we would be separately,” Grandy said. “If you look at Middle Tennessee and that cluster of counties around Davidson County in Nashville, all of those counties are prosperous right now. And it’s because they work together. We have (worked together as a region in the past), but we just want to be more intentional about it. We think we can.”