Beth Jones, director of the 10-county Southeast Tennessee Development District summed up the meeting this way: “We are trying to prepare this region for the global economy and to be good stewards of the environment. And that doesn't happen without regional cooperation.”
Regional and state cooperation was a key element in landing the VW plant in Chattanooga and the Wacker Chemie plant in Bradley County. These successes also revealed an important fact — what we do affects one another.
Bradley County and Catoosa County in north Georgia are being heavily impacted by VW as peripheral industries look for a place to locate close to the $1 billion plant. McMinn County will no doubt be impacted as the WACKER plant is built close to its border.
The region is also drawn together by a shared work force. For example, 19.8 percent of Hamilton County's work force commutes daily from Catoosa County. Some 41 percent of Polk County's work force and 20.9 percent of McMinn County's work force commutes daily to work in Bradley County, while 29 percent of Bradley County's work force commutes daily to Hamilton County. These statistics demonstrate the need for regional planning and cooperation, especially in the area of a trained work force.
Infrastructure is another area where regional cooperation is necessary. When manufacturers look at a site for their industry, they want to be assured of access to an adequate energy and water supply. The region must have good highways, railroads, airports and even waterways for their distribution network.
Southeast Tennessee and north Georgia are fortunate to have these resources. Our transportation system includes three interstate highways, two national railroads, seven airports and a major waterway for barge traffic. However, we must work together to meet the emerging challenges of global competition, sustainable jobs, healthcare costs, waste reduction, housing, a technically skilled work force and many other issues. The economy and infrastructure needs do not recognize county or state lines. We rise and fall as a region.
An additional benefit of regional cooperation is the opportunity to apply for a $5 million dollar Sustainable Communities Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant would support multi-jurisdictional regional planning efforts that integrate housing, economic development, transportation and environmental quality. Each county in the region would benefit as the grant would be administered by the Southeast Tennessee Development District.
There's a long history of cooperation among southeast Tennessee counties and more recently with the north Georgia counties bordering Bradley and Hamilton counties.
There is a growing realization that by pooling our resources and working together we can create new and good paying jobs in our communities. Volkswagen and Wacker are great examples of that.
Bradley County will continue to cooperate with other leaders in the region as we work to be competitive in today's global economy. By working together we will seek to be ready for the future and not let the future pass us by.