An Objective look at Elizabethton/Carter County's status

Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

Taking an objective look at where one stands is often necessary in order to move forward. In May of 2002, the Carter County Leadership Team completed an analysis of the county which revealed information vital to future improvements.
     The leadership team is made up of highly visible local businessmen and women, as well as community leaders. In the analysis, the leaders identify the issues and challenges which they believe the community currently faces, and provide recommendations for plausible action.
     "This was done by a small group of people in the community. We said we need to put something together that helps us to understand our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats," Scott Williams, CEO of Sycamore Shoals Hospital, and leadership team member said. "It gave us a three-dimensional perspective of where our community is, where we would like our community to grow, and what it would take to get there."
     The SWOT analysis recognizes some of Carter County's strengths as its availability of land for development, scenic beauty, access to a four-lane highway system, and the presence of a local airport. Community leaders see these attributes, and others, as areas that can be used to attract industry, and to improve the current economic outlook.
     At the other end of the spectrum: the lack of a convention center, mid to up-scale restaurants, a technically skilled workforce, and a declining tax base have been identified as some of the weaknesses in the county.
     Areas which the city and county could capitalize upon are also highlighted in the analysis. The completion of local highway projects such as the Northern Connector, and Interstate-26 could hold significant growth potential for the community.
     "We have counties that we compete with for industries that have much more frontage to the highway than we do, but we have a great four-lane coming into the community," Williams said. "We just need to get organized and get going in the direction we need."
     Williams added that the new highway offers Elizabethton/Carter County a limited window of opportunity to attract new businesses. He noted that other surrounding counties have already begun construction of industrial parks in preparation for I-26.
     The vacant Alcoa and Frank Shaffer buildings were also recognized as opportunities for the county, along with the presence of mid to upper class residential development.
     According to the analysis, the threats currently facing Carter County include additional industrial closures, state and local budget cuts, the urban sprawl of Johnson City, and unfavorable regulations related to industrial development.
     In order to gain information on potential ways to improve the community, the team looked at other counties and cities. Local public defender David Bautista compiled most of the information used in a comparison between Carter and Greene Counties.
     The information was gathered from several sources, including the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, and the comparison offers insight into how Carter County measures up to other area counties similar to it in population, as well as size.
     The comparison showed Carter County falling significantly behind Greene in the amount of growth in manufacturing, retail, and job opportunities it experienced from 1991 to 2000. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Greene County saw 195 new manufacturing projects during the nine year period, while Carter County had only 51 total projects.
     During the same time frame, Greene County had a total of 5,196 job opportunity expansions, while Carter County had only 481. There were 770 job opportunities as the result of new plants in Carter County, and 3,725 new jobs in Greene County.
     Members of the leadership team believe that the growth other communities have experienced offers reason for Elizabethton/Carter County to be optimistic about its future.
     "It was surprising to us the growth in Greene County, but it gave us a lot of hope that we could do some of the things Greene County did and realize some of the same success they did," Williams said. "We can learn from communities such as Greene County and the Greenville/Spartanburg area. If we take what they have done, include that in our analysis, and develop a solid plan that the leaders and the people in this community can buy into, then there is going to be prosperity."
     The local government plans to use the concepts behind the analysis to make informed decisions about the future of the county. County Executive Dale Fair is trying to set up a workshop, where the analysis, along with a labor market analysis completed by Dr. Karen Tarnoff of East Tennessee State University, will be presented to the community.
     "We are going to try to pull together members from the city, county, and the general public and go over the presentation sometime in March," Fair said.