Highland Initiative spurs joint economic growth

Posted By | August 30, 2005 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
Editor’s note: This is part I of a four-part story about the Highlands Initiative plan.
Communities in the Upper Cumberland are no longer entities unto themselves when pursuing new businesses and industries, and a specialized strategy for development will soon enhance the area’s growth and bring in new jobs.
In last week’s Economic Outlook story, George Halford, president and CEO of Putnam-County Chamber of Commerce, talked about a newly devised approach to furthering growth of Sparta and White County in conjunction with the surrounding cities and counties.
Highlands Initiative is a four-year economic acceleration program that was developed after numerous meetings with a combined leadership of the Upper Cumberland. The final determination was the Upper Cumberland has many competitive advantages that should stimulate growth and development. Its central location and lost cost of living provides opportunities for improvement in many areas, including quality job creation, per capita income increases, wages and benefits enhancements, workforce development, retail activity expansion and supporting infrastructure developments.
A program was developed with a four-year time frame for implementation. A steering committee comprised of investors with a major stake in the program’s success will guide the progress.
Chambers of Commerce in the Upper Cumberland will play vital roles in achieving the results for needed economic growth.
A four-year budget of $2,010,000 will be needed to fully implement the initiative, and many businesses, individuals and governmental entities have already committed to funding the program.
The first strategy for Highlands Initiative is business recruitment and retention.
Initiative leaders will commission a ‘Target Opportunities’ plan to identify opportunities that will “best fit” the region and determine infrastructure requirements for the targeted businesses. Some of the targets may include knowledge and information-based businesses, manufacturing, distribution and healthcare employers.
They will identify locations for multipurpose business parks and work with public and private partners to acquire the property. Initiative leaders will also work with local and state officials to plan and install infrastructure for the new business parks.
The group will work with Sparta and White County officials and Upper Cumberland Regional Airport Board to develop a business park adjacent to the airport.
A data base will be created containing all available buildings and land in the Upper Cumberland. Tennessee Technological University will produce GIS plat mapping of the counties in the region. The data base will include available utilities, access to major roads, zoning, etc. Regional economical development partners will be provided on-line access to the data base.
Initiative leaders will develop prospect-handling protocols, including confidentiality guidelines, designation of official contacts, rapid response with regional information and coordination of visits to communities.
Major employers in the region will help identify and contact executives of prospect companies. Initiative leaders will also develop within each jurisdiction a pre-approved incentive plan to aid in closing deals with targeted prospects considering expansion in the region.
The utmost goal is to implement a program on increase the number of qualified workers in the region’s workforce to support the needs of existing and targeted employers.
The final outcome the initiative hopes to achieve for the business recruitment and retention strategy includes:
•Increase prospect visits to the region by 200 percent
•Secure a minimum of one employer in each target sector identified in this initiative.
•Recruit 1,200 new primary jobs with an average pay of $13.70 per hour.
•Increase the regional payroll at a rate higher than the State of Tennessee.
•Increase per capita income at a rate higher than the State of Tennessee.
•Increase educational attainment in the region. Reduce high school drop-out rate by 10 percent in White, Putnam and Overton counties.
Part II of the four-part series about Highlands Initiative will be featured in the Sept. 6, 2005, edition of The Expositor.

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