Just Who Are We?
Here we are, one month into 2017, and we are still facing an identity crisis. Jefferson County is the Victor/Victoria of communities. We have as many faces as we do places and it is high time that we identify the road that we want to travel and get on with the journey. Never is our identity crisis more apparent than when we have big financial decisions to make. Be it schools or business recruitment, rarely are we all on the same page and while different parts of the County may have different needs, there is little agreement even neighbor to neighbor.
Are we a bedroom community? Do we want a business park? Light industry or large company recruitment? Farmland or more retail? Sure we have a Building a Better Future document but, to be honest, I am not a fan. It is more flash than substance and it simply doesn’t address the real divide in Jefferson County. Maybe some of the problems that we have in steering our ship comes from the fact that we are always going to the same crew. They only know one direction. It is the same people, or group of people, whose opinions are represented in documents like the Building a Better Future plan. We are an extremely diverse community and we need that diversity represented on our committees and decision making groups.
It is past time for Jefferson County to outline our future, where we want to go and how we are going to get there. There are four municipalities that have distinct needs and that doesn’t even begin to address the Strawberry Plains area. For what it is worth, here is how I see it. Dandridge is obviously pursuing the tourist market. It appears to be a natural fit for the community but it is going to take some aggressive action from the local government to make any great leaps forward. They are working on the dock project and there is a waterfront plan that is pretty much in place but the Town has to over come its greatest obstacle, which is that it is the master of the understatement. In tourism the hard truth is go big or they stay home and this is a Town that doesn’t like to make noise. They need to fix their water issues, both sewer and the drinking water discoloration, and spend a little time shoring up the seasonal gaps. It is all great during the warm months but businesses can’t live on fair weather business alone. They need a tourism plan and they have to be willing to make a little noise or they will never realize the tourist market that makes a Town a sustainable tourist destination and a real commodity.
Jefferson City has yet to embrace their most valuable asset. They are a town with a college but they are so far from a college town that some people even forget that CNU lives in the heart of the city. Jefferson City has a captive audience in CNU and they do not pander to that audience. Anyone that has spent anytime in a college town knows that it generally has the best of both worlds. Many retail and service businesses flock to college towns but that simply hasn’t happened with Jefferson City. The movement to revitalize the Mossy Creek area is great but, let’s face the hard truths. It is very, very difficult to revitalize an area that is in the state of disrepair that old downtown Jefferson City is in. There is a bright spot in the old downtown area and it is a model of what might be if Jefferson City can embrace their unfilled destiny and become a college town. Look at the community members that come to eat and socialize at The Creek. Though it is a business that was conceptualized by CNU and is a working project of CNU, many people from the community have embraced this little business. It is a snippet of what could be and that could be really, really good.
White Pine is a community that desperately needs to create a middle class. It is the simple truth that the few of the citizens in White Pine are in the middle class. The area has serious economic issues and the disadvantaged far outnumber the advantaged. Certainly, there are those that live in large homes and drive cars that cost more than the average citizen makes in not just one year but more likely two years. But the majority of the residents of White Pine are not economically stable, little alone economically fortunate. Does that mean a Commerce Park is needed? I don’t know that answer but I do know that there needs to be a middle class infusion in White Pine because it is the middle class that bolsters the economically challenged and brings in the kind of businesses that can employ those in the community.
It takes the municipalities and the county working together to move forward. We need one vision and we really needed it before the question of a Commerce Park or budget issues came up but that just isn’t going to happen. We knew our problem years ago when we were debating the Mega Site and now, years later, we are no closer to one vision. Time is ticking. What are we waiting for?