A world trade center in the Tri-Cities? It's about to happen

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com

  BRISTOL -- Would a Tri-Cities world trade center be a boon to desperately needed economic development in the region? The idea at first sounded ridiculous to one area businessman.
  "When I first heard about it, I thought it was either the dumbest idea or the most brilliant," said Tim Siglin, sole owner and operator of Transitions, Inc., a small business and technology development company. Siglin decided to move to the area in 2000 and has been working as a consultant to the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
  "I have worked with companies in the Pacific Rim and in Europe; I have always done global work. I moved here because I liked the area and knew that I could continue my consulting wherever I lived."
  Siglin was one of approximately 50 area business leaders and government officials who met at the Bristol Regional Medical Center Monday morning to hear from world trade center representatives from around the country about what their centers offer, how they got started, and how much they have grown since their formation.
  "There are 300 world trade centers around the world ... not just the one in New York City ... and this area would be one of the first non-metropolitan areas to go after something like this. ... With the regional airport here, it really is a great location for a foreign trade zone to hit places like Washington, New York and Miami," Siglin said.
  Liesa Jenkins is the executive director of Kingsport Tomorrow, a non-profit umbrella organization that has agreed to act as a legal entity for the Kingsport International Networking Group (KING) which is seeking a World Trade Center brand name for the Tri-Cities by April 2005.
  "Right now, it is a private investment. We went to Geneva, Switzerland and got an option on a brand name, which you must secure to begin a world trade center - a World Trade Center Association license. We have 12 months to pay $175,000 in full or we lose our money. We came back knowing that we needed to make more people understand what we are trying to do. Leadership has to be behind it; it must be a collaborative project, a combination of public and private funding," Jenkins said.
  Representatives from the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia, Pa., the World Trade Center in Charleston, S.C., and World Trade Center San Diego, Calif., briefed the group about their centers. Jenkins said all three are partnering with a developer to build facilities that are high value office spaces and convention centers; all three are currently in buildings that they do not own.
  "Owning a facility is not a high priority for us here. Our priorities are market research and one-on-one assistance to businesses as well as consulting services to businesses wanting to do international trade and trade development," Jenkins said.
  In addition, the Tri-Cities World Trade Center would assist businesses in navigating through legal ins and outs, how to import and how to export.
  Each of the world trade centers that served as models at the meeting offer a specialty that others don't. The World Trade Center in San Diego specializes in trade missions or delegations with Southeast Asia, and the center in Charleston has developed an international business curriculum for high school and community college students.
  KING has been meeting for not quite two years to develop their plan, according to Jenkins, and, over time, the interest expanded from Kingsport to the tri-state area that includes Virginia and North Carolina. Interested members include business leaders interested in making use of vacant facilities and expanding economic growth.
  "Certainly there are also services at the state level to promote economic development that could be connected to international development and could complement the state; federally funded programs for agriculture and export of new market developments that we could apply for and hopefully the senators would contribute," Jenkins said.
  Elected officials who attended the Monday meeting were Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier, state Rep. Nathan Vaughn, U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.