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Chamber examines community and politics

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By E.L. Morton

 I recently observed a candidate for a local office pulling a trailer with a message attached:  “Candidate at Work.”  In a season of “getting out the message”, your chamber has been more in the “work through this hot summer” mode.  Our summer has been a season of political messages relative to the election process, one of a few community processes where the chamber doesn’t get too deeply involved.  We certainly count some elected officials and candidates among our members and have responded to candidate information requests.  In some cases candidates asked what we felt would benefit the community and I have been happy to tell the chamber story.  I am also glad that is the extent of chamber involvement in the election process.    

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  Now, with a large portion of election season behind us, we can get back to stumping our fundamental chamber messages again, so here goes:

As always, this is your chamber…period.  Business people, private citizens and all points in between.  We all have a stake in economic and community development, two of our core competencies.  Our membership doors are open and our board will consider all comers from business, private citizens, leaders and team-players from all walks.  Have expectations of this chamber!  We are responsible to produce results for members and our community.  Membership benefits include our member network, business development tools, having a voice in community development and many other facets contributing to our quality of life.  We can do these things better and achieve much greater results with your membership and support.

Campbell County is a Three Star Community….period.  We are once again, for a 20th consecutive year.  That is the standard set before I arrived and we take it seriously. It is the state’s measuring stick to determine community competitiveness for state and federal grants.  Cindi Reynolds, our chamber administrative assistant and our summer office assistant Candice Seiber did a great job of talking with you and organizations throughout the county.  In doing so, you/they/we quantified over 90 performance categories from volunteer hours to utilities capacity in our industrial parks.  Working with the county mayor and our Joint Economic and Community Development Board, we additionally succeeded in shaping strategic objectives for our path ahead.  Those two pieces combined to represent a county that the Governor and Nashville recognize as “meeting the standard.”  It is now up to us to grow and exceed the standard.

Jellico/Campbell County is the “Front Door” to Tennessee. You may have heard me mention it before.  What does that mean?  Well, if we disregard the opportunity to create meaning and value it means nothing!  The way I see it, it is our role to grow. Our community can add value to the I-75 corridor, our entire state, the southeast region and build a world-class presence. We are the only community that can make an impression at the Tennessee/Kentucky state line on I-75 South.  There are many ways to do so.  God, TVA and our forefathers gave us 800 miles of Norris shoreline drawing people and business from all over the world.  Our love of the outdoors, along with local groups like the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association (CORA) created a public land access anomaly of 154,000 acres of public land and trails.  Search east of the Mississippi and you will find very few communities with such treasures.  Certainly the appearance of our state line, highways and cities are important to this role. Building and maintaining the world’ most highly competitive workforce is key. Developing business sites that add immediate value for prospects will discriminate us from other communities (like the railhead additions in the Oswego Industrial Park, a project underway between our Jellico and county  mayors).  These things all can be part of a premier Front Door community and it is ours if we chose to steward the role.

Creating value from our special place in the world with our unique people, from our home community takes imagination, something we have in loads.  It’s how NASCAR tracks not only get to places like Martinsville, Virginia, but stay there.  It is how companies like Natural Energy Group are created by your Campbell County neighbors.  How?  Dr. Gary Anderson spoke to our Rotary club recently on ways to do just that.  His unique perspective led the room of 35 or so to believe we have every reason to compete for business partners from around the world.  He hilighted some common traits from communities that are attracting business today.  Along with imagination and vision, Gary hilighted education, planning, low crime and property value protection.  No surprises there!  It takes work, but we can do it.

We must plan for the future we want.  A community discussion defining our goals is essential.  It is a perfect time to begin that discussion with new officials.  High-performance schools, rewarding living wages, safe communities, safe transportation, sound property value, first quality recreation and cultural enrichment are all components in the quality of life we all desire. They are keys to attracting visitors and investment and they warrant a vision, clear goals, a strategy and plan.

Market opportunities are emerging for retail and services business.  The contracting economy has caused major retailers to consolidate in urban hubs. They are relying on our purchasing patterns to tell them when to consider expanding back into markets like ours. Those circumstances create opportunity.  Opportunity that still has risk, yet our business development program can reduce some of that risk.  Bring us your ideas and give us a chance to help you build a business plan. We’ll then assist your search for capital.  In today’s economy, entrepreneurs must consider banks as picky adventure capitalists because they are.  We can help. We look forward to a county business incubator in the near future for those who demonstrate sound plans in opportunity markets. 

Infrastructure matters. We must create long term plans for developing and improving commercial and residential lands, roads, airports, rail, water, electrical and broadband utilities.  Jail and justice facilities are part of that mix too.  We have significant talent and experienced people working those areas for the county today. In fact, we are the first community in Tennessee to achieve sewer service to floating homes.  We need to continue to press for continued growth.

Getting these things right will set our county apart from the majority of rural communities and move us toward the future we discussed during campaign season.