Time for a Change of Thought
The ides of March came one day late for the Industrial Development Board as the Jefferson County Commission turned down their request for funding for a Commerce Park that would have landed on some high interest property on C.H. Rankin Road. Those that are familiar with the area know that it is a beautiful location and one of a handful in the White Pine area that would garner such a public outcry at industrial development. I know what the IDB was trying to do and I know why they were trying to do it. It was their mandate and it was a thankless job. Was this the best area to locate an industrial park? Probably not, but after a decade of coming up empty handed I think that the IDB was feeling the pressure to come up with something and the two property owners in question were ready and willing to sale. Now their neighbors, that was another story.
It turns out that Jefferson County may have another option on the other side of White Pine and it might be a much better fit. There is already an industrial park located on the property so there is no fight on that front. The good news is the investment would be minimal and the infrastructure is already in place. The bad news is that we would not be the sole owners of the property, we would be sharing the location with Morristown. Now, don’t even get me started on why Morristown was able to come into our County and purchase property for an industrial park. Apparently at least part of our government was asleep at the wheel and if it hadn’t been for some quick thinking on the part of Jefferson City at that time then it could have been much, much worse for the people on both the Jefferson City and White Pine ends of the County. That was then and this is now. We should take advantage of the situation that Morristown thrust upon us if we can. And, we should never forget that it was them, not us, that crossed the line both literally and figuratively. Maybe becoming an active partner in the Progressive Park location will bring a little Karma home to roost.
IDB Chair Masters told the County Commission that they need to decide if they want industrial development. Granted, he was peeved that the IDB request was turned down but he has a legitimate point. Dandridge is a tourist town, a retirement community and a bedroom community for Knoxville. It knows what it is and, if the sales tax numbers are any indication it is working. Jefferson City is the sales tax hub of Jefferson County and it might like to have a little more industry in the form of distribution centers or something clean and green. There is a little property in Jefferson City that would be good for a small development and it is worth considering. After all, it doesn’t have to be large to have a big impact. The Strawberry Plains/New Market area are in a wait and see situation with Norfolk Southern and the Mines. New Market is in a financial pinch and could use an influx of money but, corporate welfare being what it is, any industry would likely not add to their coffers. And then there is White Pine. Over and over the people of White Pine have pointed out that there are jobs available for their citizens. It is not a case of have not but, rather a case of want not. Their words, not mine. It is their community and they should know.
So, does Jefferson County really want an influx of large industry? Maybe not. Maybe we are happy filling our present buildings and adding a couple of small to middle locations here and there. And that is fine. I keep hearing that we need jobs so our children will be able to stay here and not have to move of to work. The truth is that we are close enough to Knoxville, Morristown and Sevierville that our children do not have to leave unless they want to leave. When I lived in Knoxville it took me the same time to get to work across town as it did driving in from Jefferson County. It is all about what we or they want. I think that they want good schools, low crime and general livability. Those are thing that we can provide with some strategic moves. Build some parks, encourage small business owners with some of those golden abatement, improve our schools. You’ll be surprised just how many of our kids will find their way home again after facing the high dollar, high crime, smoggy cities. Believe it or not, what we have now is a commodity that we can build on. Just ask all those folks that have found their way here from other places.
The County Commission does need to direct the IDB. They can’t provide what they don’t know that we want. The party line is always industrial parks but maybe it is time that we set outside the box and direct our IDB to come up with a way to promote small business in Jefferson County. Identify our wants and needs and find a way to encourage the American Dream, right here in Jefferson County. It is a good board and they have the best interest of Jefferson County at heart. Point them in the direction that we really want to go, not where we have been told that we need to go, and let them lead the way. Success comes in many different forms and it may just be that for us, for Jefferson County, success has a different face than it does for our large population big city cousins. Instead of following the crowd, maybe we can find our own path to the good life and still keep our view.