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By: George Halford | 07.09.15

Well, your Chamber/community football game “buzzer” sounded on June 30th, officially ending the first half of our economic development contest in 2015.  And what a first half it was!  We scored a lot of touchdowns, and now we are ready to charge out of the locker room and put even more points on the scoreboard.  Our team is together, poised, prepared, and focused on creating and retaining quality jobs, ensuring that we have a 21st century workforce to fill these positions, grow our economy, and improve the quality of life in the process.  We are moving up in statewide rankings and polls and are being recognized as an emerging championship “team”.  As former Tennessee Tech Women’s basketball coach Sytia Messer once said, “Fun is a 3 letter word spelled W-I-N!” And boy, are we having fun right now.  All of the years of practice, preparation, and infrastructure development (Highlands Business Park, 5th interchange, Bennett Road extension, etc.) are now paying off.

Of course to your Chamber, the reality is there is never a halftime, a break in the action, or even a “locker room”.  Fact of the matter is that our economic development game, in addition to our traditional industry recruitment and retention program, has now been expanded to include visitor and event attraction (CVB/Sports Council), retiree development (over 1,000 requests for information in April), physician recruitment via a partnership with Cookeville Regional Medical Center, and retail development support for the City of Cookeville.  Some of these economic engines have a weekend component, and now we have become a 24-7 operation.  We welcome both the challenge and the opportunity of our expanded role.

Now, back to the “game”, the first half had many highlights and we would like to mention a few:

First coming off last game’s (2014) modern-day, record-setting pace of 1086 jobs (Academy Sports + Outdoors, TTI Floor Care and Transtar-DACCO expansions), we have announced this year a total of approximately 1280 industrial jobs, primarily from Ficosa North America - a global tier 2 auto supplier - but also from Highlands regional expansions by Jackson Kayak and Ferguson Enterprises.

Additionally, visitors, retirees, and medical professionals are coming (or moving) to our area in substantial numbers, spending the night (or nights), spending money, then departing, while leaving sales tax and hotel motel tax dollars behind for our use in building our infrastructure.  Tourism is by far the least environmentally invasive, lowest taxpayer cost, and purest form of economic development!

A brief example is the May TN State H.O.G. Rally.  A record 2553 bikers from 39 states and 5 countries attended one of the country’s largest rally for five days.  We expect the economic impact should be in the few million-dollar range.

Now, to the second half.  We are on the verge of significant retail expansion, TTU and Cookeville Regional Medical Center’s continued growth and development, and most importantly, “job 1” continues to be workforce development, training and education for both our new and existing industrial workforce!

It is truly an exciting and promising time in the Highlands region, and personally, I am having a whole lot of fun!

Time for kickoff.  We won the toss and want the ball!