By Scott Robertson
For the last 50 years the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) has shied away from making headlines, choosing instead to make a difference.
When local officials needed federal funding to bring clean drinking water to rural areas, the FTDD was the conduit to the federal funds needed. When aging citizens needed help with basic needs, the FTDD, through its Area Agency on Aging and Disability, was there. When the region needed Highway 19-23 redesignated as I-26, the FTDD pushed for it. The FTDD worked to help create the ETSU Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. “We’ve done everything,” said Director Susan Reid at a golden anniversary reception last week. “Whatever our communities need, we’ve tried to do that.”
Created by the Development District Act of 1965 (DDA), the FTDD’s original stated goal was, “to guide and assist local governments to make maximum use of federal, state and local programs designed to stimulate economic development and best utilize available resources.”
Before the DDA, local governments had to read through reams of data to learn about available low-interest grants and loans for projects to improve the lives of citizens. Since most small governments had no time to do that research, the development districts were set up to serve as a liaison to be utilized by multiple municipal governments in a given region.
“A little more than six years ago, I didn’t even know what the development district was,” said Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, “and I’ve been here virtually my whole life. The development district is made up of professionals with some very specific skill sets that quite frankly don’t exist in county government.”
Since its inception, the FTDD has helped bring more than $300 million in grants and loans to local efforts in the region.
“After the creation of this district, we were able to reach goals together that none of us could have accomplished on our own,” said Leon Humphrey, chairman of the district board and Carter County mayor.
“From our earliest years we tackled things like developing industrial parks such as those in Hancock, Johnson and Washington counties. Water projects and sewer improvements happened in virtually every community in the eight counties in the district. Vocational school buildings were built in Johnson and Unicoi counties. We could go on and on and not even begin to scratch the surface of what we have achieved by working together as one.”
With a budget near $7 million (most of which goes into the Agency on Aging), the district is funded by the federal, state and local governments, Reid said. “Our local governments pay dues. We have contracts with state agencies to do certain things. As far as accountability, we answer to everyone – local governments, state government, and we are audited by the comptroller’s office.”
The district is guided by a board made up of the mayors of towns, cities and counties in Northeast Tennessee, along with representatives of business and industry appointed by those mayors. “Without the mayors, we can’t do anything,” Reid said, “and I can’t tell you what a wonderful staff we have.”
Richard Venable, Sullivan County mayor and former district chair, summed up the sentiment in the room, saying, “The impact (the FTDD) has had, not just on my county, but on this region, cannot be measured. We truly have a jewel in the region right here.”