TVA's top economic developer said Thursday that regionalism will provide the Chattanooga area more product to sell to business prospects.
"That's the key. If you've got product, you've got something to sell," said John Bradley, TVA's senior vice president for economic development, who took part in a panel discussion on regionalism.
Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development, told Chattanooga Rotarians that his biggest fear is that the region sits on its past success.
"My biggest concern is complacency -- that as a community we get fat and happy," he said.
Wood said the area needs to continue to focus on growth. He cited efforts to fashion a 40-year growth plan that are getting under way for the 16-county area around Chattanooga covering Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Georgia State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said the plan has to be "all-inclusive" so it benefits everyone in the region. Mullis told a story of a meeting between Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
"The mayor introduced himself as representing the largest city in Northwest Georgia, which is true," he said. "We come up here to shop sometimes. We get our major health care up here, and we work up here."
Tennessee state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said that officials need to be upfront with taxpayers about how regional economic development benefits them.
He recalled that this past legislative session, $500,000 was awarded toward a new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., located just across the state line from Bristol, Tenn.
"It benefits Tennessee," McCormick said. "However, we didn't bother to tell anyone. We were embarrassed about it."
If in the future there are funds spent related to a project in Rossville, for example, "we need to be out front with it. We need to bring the average taxpaying citizen with us."
Wood said it's important when reaching out to other counties that their economic development officials are comfortable, noting there is "a trust factor."
"County lines, state lines, city lines - none of that means nothing," he said.
Mullis said Northwest Georgia is a bedroom community to Chattanooga.
"We're proud of that," he said.
The growth plan was included in the Chattanooga Chamber's latest jobs initiative dubbed "Chattanooga Can Do: Building Tomorrow Today."
The city, Hamilton County government and area foundations have pledged $3 million for the effort.