Is There Life Out There?

editorial-logo3So, with the recent drive and fumble to push economic development in Jefferson County, I have begun to wonder just how far the responsibility of the County extends in regard to providing jobs. For those of us who are native Jefferson County residents, it is no surprise that there is not an abundance of jobs awaiting new high school and college graduates in Jefferson County. Perhaps there was a time when folks could pick and choose lucrative employment in the County, but I graduated from high school more than thirty years ago and we certainly were not ripe with jobs even then. Granted, there are some really good employers that call Jefferson County home, such as Bush Brothers and Ball, to name a couple. But if we are looking to employee every graduate from Jefferson County High School, either upon high school graduation or when they get their college diploma, it simply isn’t going to happen, and it wasn’t happening thirty years ago.

Back in the mid 2000s, Jefferson County saw a population boom. People poured in here from everywhere. Some were retirees, and others were young families seeking refuge from the city. Our schools were unable to handle the influx of students, so it wasn’t just retirees. My point is that there was no plethora of jobs in the mid 2000s and the people came because jobs just simply were not what they were looking for then, and I would suggest that they are not what most are looking for now. We are surrounded by job opportunities that are in distances no farther than driving from East to West Knoxville for employment.

I know that my opinion is very different from some that I greatly respect, but I just am not convinced that if we had some large plant that our graduates would stay in Jefferson County. Ask them why they are leaving and most will tell you that it is not the distance to work that has them packing their bags. It is livability. They want to live where there is life. And, by the way, so do I. Sales tax is what off sets property tax, and large plants will not be paying sales or property tax. Their benefit to our community is to provide income, so that people have the money to spend at home, in Jefferson County, generating sales tax.

Let’s say that we do get a big plant operation that employees hundreds of people. Are the majority of those employees already Jefferson County residents? Or are they young workers relocating here from somewhere else? Likely a mix of both, which is fine. Only, where are those young families going to educate their children? Which of our schools can take a large influx of students without additions and renovations, or even a new build? We already know that property tax does not offset the cost of providing service for citizens, so, unless we have a huge up swing in sales tax from these young families, we are going out backwards.

Word on the street is that it is hard to get those businesses that increase the quality of life, like retail and such, without a certain population base. Okay. Does that population have to be employees in the county, or can it be a bedroom community? Sure, it may be more difficult to recruit those businesses, but I would think that the very thing that was promoted as our greatest asset during the days of the Megasite is still our greatest asset. Location. We are unique in that we sit in the lap of the split of two of the most traveled interstates in the United States: the I40-I81 split. That is unique to Jefferson County, and it means that thousands of people pass our exits everyday. Surely that means more in attracting the types of businesses that provide quality of life than one or two plants?

I promise you, the majority of our kids are not bugging out of town because they have to move to Knoxville to find a job. People from Knoxville are moving to Jefferson County and they aren’t looking for employment or disparaging the commute. They are choosing us, and our kids would too if they could have the quality of life that they have elsewhere. We are not job poor. We are choice poor, and until we look at the big picture through the eyes of those that we want to keep here, at home with us, the only thing that we are going to see are tail lights as our posterity goes searching for life.

Source: K. Depew, News Director

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014