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

County way behind in economic development

When it comes to economic development, Washington County is way, way behind.
Robert Reynolds, CEO of the Washington County Economic Development Council, provided an overview of the the challenges the county is facing during a workshop prior to the Nov. 28 Washington County Commission meeting.
The WCEDC is the umbrella organization for the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Economic Development Board, the Johnson City Public Building Authority and the Johnson City Development Authority.
Reynolds was hired to lead the new structure formed last year, which centralizes all economic development groups for the greatest use of staff and resources.
“It doesn’t make sense to have separate entities serving sectors in the same city,” Reynolds said. “We (previously) had nine individuals in four offices working on economic development.”
Reynolds said unanimous endorsement of an umbrella organization was received from the EDB, JCDA and PBA. The Chamber of Commerce continues to operate as a separate membership-directed organization.
The mission of the WCEDC is to enhance job growth and increase the tax base of Washington County.
During the work session, Reynolds reviewed the five absolute truths of economic development:
• It is ultra-competitive. “We’re not just competing here, we’re competing across the nation and globally,” he said.
• If you don’t, can’t or won’t, somebody else does, can or will. “It is very cutthroat,” Reynolds said, remembering the time a competing location followed him and a prospect as they toured potential sites.
• Uncertainty is the enemy of investment. “We must be able to answer their questions. ‘I don’t know’ is not acceptable,” he said.
• Loose lips sink ships. “They (deals) are never done until they are done,” said Reynolds, referring to the strict need for confidentiality.
• Companies are looking for a reason to eliminate Washington County. Reynolds said the WCEDC never receives calls from business people who are dying to come to Washington County. “They call us to get us off the list (of potential sites),” he said. “Economic development is really a process of the last man standing, and we do everything we can to stay on the list.”
But the community must be ready for economic investment by providing the infrastructure, according to Reynolds.
“There is a direct correlation between dollars invested and success in economic development,” he said.
Reynolds reviewed a comparative analysis of county funding of economic development efforts by Washington, Wilson, Williamson, Sevier, Sullivan, Montgomery and Blount counties. During 2010, Washington County provided the least amount of funding at $139,244.
Additional hurdles for the county are the age and size of available facilities, and a lack of land that could be developed.
Another analysis shows Washington County has only 20 industrial facilities over 10,000 square feet, and all are metal, brick or concrete block construction. Only two facilities span over 24 feet clear ceiling height, and the average date of construction of all of the facilities is 1970. The county also has only 96 acres of industrial acreage.
Reynolds said most businesses don’t want to build their own facility.
“But Washington County is asking more for undeveloped land than other counties offering buildings with road access, parking and infrastructure,” he said. “We are way, way behind and we must be extra aggressive to catch up.”
Reynolds said the county needs to be four to five years out in inventory. “We have a tremendous amount of work to do, and we need a way to meet market prices,” he said.
The WCEDC has been working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to identify potential industrial park space.
“We need to find the land and a way to get infrastructure to it that won’t drive up the price until we are out of the market,” he said.