The idea that Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia communities should put aside old economic rivalries and work together to attract jobs and investment has gained traction in the business community recently. Yet many folks who don’t operate businesses are still wondering why, especially in counties like Sullivan and Washington. “Why should we share the benefits of our already-modest growth with counties like Hawkins and Carter?” some citizens here are asking.
The answer was provided neatly this week at an event featuring Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic. It’s not that the bigger counties here are better off than the smaller ones. It’s that we’re all small relative to what the businesses we’re trying to attract want, and we need to work together to show them the scale they’re looking for.
“A business is going to say, ‘if (we locate here and) three people quit tomorrow, where am I going to get my workers from? Where am I going to get my supplies from?’ There’s a whole chain of business performance that needs to exist. So smaller places are going to struggle as long as they continue to project ‘small.’ They need to get bigger,” Bostic told business leaders at MeadowView.
“In Georgia, four counties banded together and said, ‘any business that locates in any one of our counties, we share tax revenues.’ So economic development becomes a regional thing so everybody wins if anybody wins – and they’ve been successful in attracting businesses,” Bostic said. “Once that ball gets rolling…that grows upon itself. Once you have that reputation of being friendly for business, you will keep that reputation for a long time. That creates a lot of benefits that will continue to give advantages.”
For this region, the time has come to answer the questions: Do we want those advantages or not? Do we want to grow prosperity or continue to decline in population and wealth? And are we willing to do what it takes?