Whitehead believes city should  seek small business development

Tom Whitehead

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Thomas Whitehead says small employers looking to relocate to communities such as Elizabethton are out there, and it is up to the Elizabethton City Council to help get them here. He says rather than banking on one larger employer, the city and local economic recruiters needed to focus on smaller, more diverse employers.
  "I would rather find the 100 to 150 employee industries," Whitehead said. "We have to give some incentives to do it."
  Whitehead, 705 West G St., is seeking one of three at large seats to the City Council in the Nov. 2 city election.
  Whitehead is retired from the Elizabethton Electric System after more than 37 years. He retired as the utility's finance director. He is presently working as a realtor with Century 21 Whitehead Realty & Auction in Elizabethton.
  Whitehead said he was optimistic about large-scale retail developments in the city of Elizabethton but felt the city needed to pursue industrial employers. He said the city needed to take advantage of future development opportunities along Interstate 26 in the Okolona area.
  "I think we can be the gateway to Northeast Tennessee if we can get down there and get some small industry in here," Whitehead said. "I think it would be a good idea to cooperate with the county to try and get some property in that area.
  "That will also increase our tax base."
  He said city government administration had performed well as the city's economy endured lost jobs from employers that left town.
  "They have done a good job at keeping the tax rate the same over the past several years, but seeing that the city's needs are met," he said. "Our city manager and his staff have done a good job as planning and running our city."
  The council also recently approved a bid of $535,800 with a $107,000 contingency to demolish the old Carter County Memorial Hospital building. Whitehead said the property's future use should be carefully evaluated and its development potential maximized.
  "The property needs to be put on the market," he said. "It would be a prime commercial development."
  The city election ballot includes a referendum asking Elizabethton citizens whether they want liquor-by-the-drink legalized for sale in the city. Whitehead deferred his personal opinion about the liquor-by-the-drink referendum saying the question was up to the city voters. He did say that if citizens approved the referendum the city would get additional general fund revenues generated by taxation on liquor-by-the-drink sales.
  "We will have to wait and see what the citizens say," he said. "If it does pass, there would be some additional tax base growth."
  The council voted 4-3 in July 2003 approving an ordinance that allows the seasonal sale of fireworks within city limits during a two-week period through the Fourth of July and New Year's Day holidays. The shooting of fireworks remains illegal within city limits.
  Whitehead said he had talked with citizens about the ordinance. He said regulations of sales were effective, but he felt the ordinance was up for review by the council if need be.
  "I could be opposed to the shooting of fireworks in the city limits if we needed to review that ordinance," Whitehead said.
  Among other issues, Whitehead said the city must continue to work with the Watauga River Regional Water Authority to develop a spring source from the Watauga River. He said the council needed to review the city's future water and sewer needs as a duty to citizens and incentive to prospective industrial citizens.
  "We need to plan for that future growth," he said.
  A lifelong Carter County resident, Whitehead has been involved as a manager and board member with the community's Little League baseball and softball league teams for 25 years. He is a life member of the Carter County Rescue Squad, a past president of the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, and former chairman of the board of directors of the county's 911 Communications District.
  Whitehead has also served as a board member for several city and county organizations. He and his wife, Linda Whitehead, have four children all of whom were educated in the city and county school systems.
  Whitehead said his retirement from the EES had given him more time to devote toward bettering the city and community.
  "I've been involved in community activities in the city most of my life," he said. "I now have time to spend working on our community."