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From the mayor: County tackles infrastructure, workforce, schools

The Washington County Commission held its first Strategic Planning Session in 2019. Three goals were approved by the full commission: development of a comprehensive infrastructure and services improvement plan, especially for water and fire services; improve communications internally and externally; and improve workforce development, including education, population health and skills development.

By May, the county had a plan from Tysinger, Hampton and Partners Inc. (TH&P) and by September, it hired a communications director. With the completion of the new Boones Creek School in July, the county identified the old Boones Creek Elementary School as a potential site of a TCAT facility to focus on construction and food service training.

Water Infrastructure Planning – TH&P’s Water Line Capital improvement Plan Feasibility Study includes a survey of all county roads without water service and prioritized areas for expansion. The Water Task Force met twice to begin work on identifying funding sources and prioritizing line expansions. While the main focus is on getting clean drinking water to residents of Washington County, the Task Force is also taking into consideration fire protection.

Education Funding and Projects – The new Boones Creek School opened for the 2019-20 school year, replacing two aging buildings. The commission’s focus then turned to Jonesborough Elementary and Middle Schools. An innovative funding plan from the Town of Jonesborough resulted in a solution to build a new Jonesborough School without a tax increase. That school is now in the planning stages. 

Economic Development – The county’s industrial park landed a new tenant in 2019. German fan manufacturer EBM-Papst selected a site in the Washington County Industrial Park (WCIP) 

and started operations in an available space in Johnson City. Once its new facility is completed, it will ramp up operations and bring an estimated 200 new jobs and invest $37 million to locate new operations in Washington County. This project represented one of the largest capital investments in Washington County in nearly 10 years and garnered a spot in the top five economic development projects in the Eastern part of the state for 2019.

Not only did EBM-Papst announce new jobs coming to Washington County, but both LPI and Crown Labs made expansion announcements as well. Crown Labs announced that it would expand its footprint and create 200 new jobs in Johnson City, nearly doubling its Johnson City workforce. The cosmetics manufacturing company plans to invest $27 million to expand its production plant in Washington County.

LPI, Inc., a maker of saunas, tanning bed and hot tubs, received PILOT in 2017 as part of a recruitment incentive package. LPI has created 157 new jobs already out of the 290 its projected to create by 2025.

Regionalism – For the first time, the Washington and Sullivan County Commissions met to form a Blue Ribbon Task Force to develop concepts for a new regional strategic organization to enhance economic development efforts by retaining and attracting the best and brightest young people and spurring high-wage job growth. Throughout the year long process, the Task Force heard from numerous economists and experts, all outlining the real danger posed to the region’s economy by the loss of the best and brightest graduates as well as the rapid overall graying of the community. Five areas were identified and community groups with representatives from the region: entrepreneurial development, regional tourism marketing, existing business development, workforce development and primary job attraction. 

Conversations are continuing on how we expand the regional support and reach for entrepreneurial development, as well as how the First Tennessee Development District might expand beyond its historical scope to encompass the additional work identified by the Task Force Action Groups. The Development District Board already includes all city, county and town mayors from an eight-county region of Northeast Tennessee.