Prioritizing for productivity


KaylaBy Scott Robertson

The Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership announced this week it has completed another step in its Partnership 2021 Plan by hiring an outdoor development manager. The mission for the position is, according to a press release announcing the hiring of former Carter County tourism coordinator Kayla Carter, “to promote the outdoors as a form of economic development.”

I like the idea of making the outdoor recreational resources of Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties a significant part of the region’s economic development pitch. As it stands, we’re relatively short on inventory of flat land for industrial recruitment. Outside of a few scattered areas (the new sites at the Washington County Industrial Park, the old CSX railyard, etc) our three counties are as flat as central Florida is mountainous. And most of the flat sites for industry are already occupied.

So how do we grow the economy without so much inventory as we’d like? Well, if we can’t make more square feet productive, than we use the square feet we have to make our people more productive. And for that, we need healthy young people from outside the region to see this region as a place to move to in order to live, work and raise a family – and for those young professionals who are already here to want to stay. Happily for us, young professionals say they love outdoor recreation. So the upside potential is good.

Ms. Carter, the release continued, “will be expected to create a highly marketable outdoor brand for the region, support existing outdoor-based businesses and jobs as well as work to secure the federal designation of a National Recreation Area for land in Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties.”

Sounds great, except for that last part. Federal designation as a National Recreation Area? Oh dear.

I would hope a lot of time isn’t spent on that one. First, it’s asking for more federal involvement in Northeast Tennessee. That’s as politically popular ‘round these parts as wet socks in winter. Second, it’s asking an administration that’s currently shrinking the total acreage of national recreation areas to add acreage. I would debate the wisdom of using limited resources in pursuit of that end. Third, I don’t see that it’s the best use of the new personnel.

I would respectfully submit that Ms. Carter doesn’t need to be battling federal bureaucrats about land use philosophies. She needs to be selling what she’s passionate about to other young professionals.

And Carter is young. The good Lord willing, she has many more days ahead of her than behind. She is one of the very people she’s trying to bring here.

She completed an Appalachian Trail through hike in 2014. Upon her return, she joined the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club as a trail maintainer. She is also a member of the local Southern Off-Road Biking Association.

“I used to have a bad case of wanderlust,” Carter said in the press release. “After my through hike on the Appalachian Trail, I realized just how blessed we are to live here in Northeast Tennessee.”

It’s clear Carter can make the pitch. As a graduate of Northeast State and ETSU, and as a former writer for the Elizabethton Star, Erwin Record and Johnson City Press, she knows the region and she has learned how to tell the story. And it’s apparent she’s a true believer in the idea of using the outdoor recreational resources of Northeast Tennessee to bring jobs, investment and economic growth to the region. When I saw her address a regional tourism summit at Roan Mountain earlier this year, I was impressed with both the substance and style of her delivery.

What I hope develops, and what will only develop with the support and advice of the people she will represent, is the wisdom born of experience.

In the release, Carter said, “I have found many friends and mentors within the local outdoor industry and community. I plan to serve and support them all in any way that I can.” I hope those friends and mentors will help her prioritize the best, most productive ways she can. If that happens, her success will benefit the entire region.


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