published Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Three-Star Program nears approval in Marion County

2010 PLAN GOALS

1. Regional skills training facility

2. Reliable water and sewer

3. Vision 20/20 Plan update

4. Conserve mountaintop land, preserve watersheds and provide recreational opportunities

5. Better education on current issues

Source: Marion County Economic Development Strategic Plan

By Ryan Lewis

Correspondent

JASPER, Tenn. -- With the help of almost 60 community leaders, Marion County's Three-Star Program to target key issues faced by the county is almost ready for approval.

The program, a five-year plan, is administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. It will be up for approval by the Marion County Commission within the next two months.

Three-Star Coordinator Howard Cotter said developing a comprehensive, goal-oriented plan is essential because it saves the county money.

"That's the bottom line," he said. "Having a plan gives our county priority on (Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development) grants. Then, if we do get a grant, the county's matching funds are discounted because we have a Three-Star Program."

Right now, the county gets a 3 percent discount on matching funds because of its involvement with the program, but Mr. Cotter hopes to increase that discount.

"The better the program is, the better the discount," he said.

In the 2010 version of the Three-Star plan, building a new regional skills training facility in Kimball has been acknowledged as the county's top priority.

"It's the key to all opportunity in Marion County," Mr. Cotter said. "The future of the county lies in the education of its workforce. It will provide a future for our children and is a key to recruiting jobs and industry."

Marion County Mayor Howell Moss said the Three-Star Program "improves communication among the communities and sends a message to industries that we have a lot in place to assist them in locating to our area."

The plan is updated annually to determine progress and identify any new goals to be added, officials said. Once the plan is adopted by county commissioners, the lobbying of state and county elected officials to work on the goals begins.

"A lot depends on the funding and resources available," Mr. Cotter said. "Through the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, we lobby county officials and state legislators to help us achieve the priorities our group has identified."

Kay Light, director of career and technical education for the Marion County school system, said a new skills training center would be a huge benefit.

"It will provide a lot of opportunity for our students," she said. "It will help prepare them for the types of industry we hope will be coming to this area in the near future."

Mr. Moss said the training center objective is "the most foresighted thing we have done. If you don't train your workforce, you're not going to attract a lot of business to the county."

Other priorities for Marion County over the next five years include developing a reliable water and sewage system, updating the Vision 20/20 plan, conserving mountaintop land and increasing education throughout the county on current issues.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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