There’s a long history of cooperation among Southeast Tennessee counties when it comes to recruitment and support of industry.
Next week’s trade mission to Germany is the culmination of decades of unified efforts, said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, one of the participants in a state-sponsored trip to meet Volkswagen suppliers on their home turf.
“I go back to the late ’60s and early ’70s with the (Southeast Tennessee) Development District,” Mr. Littlefield said. “We’ve been working all this time to have an economic generator of this significance. At last we have it.”
The Southeast Tennessee Development District, now teamed with a number of similar specialized organizations that came after it, has played an important role in promoting and recruiting industry in the Chattanooga region, Mr. Littlefield said.
“I have been working with the development district for almost 40 years, and everything has sort of finally come to fruition,” he said of successfully landing a VW manufacturing plant at the Enterprise South industrial park and getting ready for a trip to bring more industry from Europe.
Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley said the district serves small counties well with resources to promote themselves.
Bledsoe will benefit from a new interactive map on the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s Web site that targets Volkswagen suppliers looking for available property and buildings, Mr. Ridley said.
“I’ve been in office almost seven years now and, from the beginning, the district has worked toward a regional goal,” he said.
Mr. Ridley said he and fellow officials will take a spirit of cooperation to Germany.
John Gentry, mayor of McMinn County, said the diversity of the 10-county district makes it easier to promote the counties.
“We’re able to use the labor market from neighboring counties,” he said. “We’ll use the Loudon, Meigs, Polk labor markets to try to recruit here, and they use ours to recruit there.”
He said jobs and workers ignore county boundaries.
“You go to the Denso plant, you’re going to see license plates from probably seven or eight counties,” he said of the facility in Athens, Tenn., that makes auto parts. “If an industry lands in the surrounding area, we’re all excited.”
Howell Moss, Marion County’s mayor, said the development district has “consistently crossed all political boundaries, as well as county and even state boundaries.”
“The work force and training issues are the same throughout the entire region,” Mr. Moss said. “It’s imperative to work together for these goals or we would not be in competition for any of these industries.”
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...