It is time for business leaders to step up to the plate
In a recent sermon, Dr Tim Elmore spoke about leadership and a quotation he used from Chronicles seems appropriate not just to the past, but to the issues our community faces today. Their leaders “were men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do…”
Do our current leaders truly “understand the times” and do they have knowledge of what our “tribe” should do? I have doubts.
What are the characteristics of our time that are misunderstood and how is it affecting the course of the future?
First, job creation is the first order condition. Opportunity drives everything else. Housing, amenities, and the like follow from these, they do not create them.
Without more jobs and opportunity, we are a relatively less attractive place to live. These jobs must be more than what have been created-low paying retail and hospitality employment. While they may put food on some tables, they do not provide a living wage and certainly do not spur housing development and economic growth
Think about what we have done to our citizens. A significant number are employed in the ten-dollar-an hour range. When we imposed an $8 garbage fee, we told them that they must work an hour per month just for City garbage pickup (after taxes). Would our BMA be happy if they had to pay the equivalent of an hour’s worth of their income for the same privilege?
Our situation is not a cause for hope? Without optimism in the future we have seen increased drug addiction and the decline in perceived work ethic. Jobs create opportunity and opportunity creates hope. Vision translates hope into reality. This is not a city function, it must be driven by the private sector.
Second, the current economic recruiting programs are insufficient. NETWORKS (the economic development organization) is hamstrung by the system in which it operates. In large measure, we are a captive of the State. They distribute prospects to the various regions within Tennessee, then we all paddle like hell (and throw money around) in a vain hope we will land a fish.
It does not work well and not for lack of effort. We can do all we can, but ultimately there is a giant sucking sound emanating from Nashville. The sad reality is that a large portion of the prospects simply want to locate in Middle Tennessee.
The market is at work. There is an over-supply of rural locations and low demand. Consequently, we get few takers and because the competition is so fierce, we bleed ourselves out in the process. This condition is recognized by the State agencies, but they have no better solutions that we do to solve the problem.
An alternative would be to form teams of business professionals supported by local communities (not led by them), to take our story to companies that may fit our environment.
For example, I have advocated we directly approach gun manufacturers from places that were enacting harsh gun control laws (like Connecticut). We have a wonderful story to tell. We love our guns. Hunting and outdoor sports are popular. And, we are actually reducing firearm restrictions (because we don’t need government to tell us how to use them safely).
The response was that the State might get upset if we strike out on our own. Given the difficulties they are having with rural development, wouldn’t they be receptive to a new approach. The truth is that we need to take care of ourselves and stop waiting for some level of government to solve our problems.
Finally, we must accept who we are and build on that foundation. We have yet to internalize our condition and what we can realistically become. We are a legacy of what was once a planned industrial community. We still have significant “smoke stack” facilities scattered around our community.
Our leaders seem embarrassed by this fact. They would rather us be a vacation destination like Asheville. We are not and never will be.
We cannot simply pretend that the huge industrial complex situated on our gateway into town does not exist. Likewise, our downtown periodically (albeit less frequently these days) has an odor. These conditions may be an impediment to attracting new residents. This isn’t negativism. It is the truth.
We need a vision that embraces our heritage, not try to hide it in the closet.
There is a clear, logical path to pursue. It is true to who we are. It embraces our industrial heritage. It capitalizes on many of the investments we have made in: education; workforce development; urban renovation; etc. It is forward looking and has unlimited potential. Unfortunately, it is also one that has been proposed to and rejected by our City leadership. It is time to renew that effort.
“Kingsport should become the ‘advanced manufacturing’ hub of the mid-south region.”
Over the course of the next several months I will expand on this vision with a clear understanding of the times, past and present, that links what we should do to create a future based on opportunity
This is not a single-participant game. We need to form a coalition of those willing to give of themselves to build a better community. Public service is a part of that plan. However, it is time for business leaders to step up to the plate. Only if we work together can we fulfill our potential.