TRI-CITIES, Tenn/Va.- A newly-announced regional organization aims to help build the area’s workforce, boost economic development, and create a welcoming atmosphere in the area.
A group of different community and business leaders have been meeting to discuss diversity initiatives since 2015. But this February, a 15-member board was seated for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
The group received a $10,000 grant from the United Way of East Tennessee Highlands this week, prompting them to bring their work into the public eye.
Adam Dickson, president of the Alliance, sees growth in DEI as a winning strategy for improving the region’s economy.
“Diversity is respecting me. Equity is providing me the tools to succeed and achieve. Inclusion is acknowledging me and realizing that I’m part of the culture of the business, or the culture of the region,” he said.
The 501(c)(3) organization plans to work with different cities and businesses to implement programs to promote these principles. The Alliance will focus efforts on 12 different Tennessee and Virginia counties.
Chris Dagenhart, the organization’s vice president, says their focus isn’t on any certain race, sexuality, or religion.
“We are focusing on everyone,” he said. “One of the characteristics of younger people now, is they want to live in communities that practice diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not because they’re some minority on some factor, but that’s the kind of community that they want to embrace and live in. Where they want to work, live, and raise their family.”
According to a release from the Alliance, ‘Johnson City, Tennessee has a minority population of 15.8%, while Bristol, TN and Kingsport, TN are at 7% and 5.2% respectively.’
The release states, ‘Asheville, North Carolina’s minority population is at 22.3%. And, Greenville, South Carolina has a minority population of 38.4%.’
Leaders say attracting a younger workforce is what the region needs to bounce back from population and economic decline. Dickson said DEI matters when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent in the area.
“You look a little deeper at some of the metropolitan statistical areas that are seeing population increases, we also see that their percentages of diversity are much higher than Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia,” said Dickson.
Dickson said he’s concerned about the region’s reputation on a national scale after articles from major media outlets focused on what he termed ‘a lack of sensitivity.’ While he declined to identify specific incidents, he said promoting a more welcoming atmosphere is the way to move forward.
“We want to provide very positive and proactive tools to try to help paint a picture of our region as we know it to be,” he said.
The Alliance’s website is supposed to launch soon and will offer more information about the organization and its board. Dickson said different area businesses and chambers of commerce have already been very supportive of the Alliance.
In Johnson City, leaders have debated creating an equity board in recent months, but no community board has been established from the discussions. On Friday, Mayor Joe Wise confirmed to News Channel 11 he plans to meet individually with the DEI Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
“I would be seeking input on how the city could ensure effective and efficient delivery of city services to all residents,” Wise said in a message.
“We welcome the opportunity to sit down with city leaders in Johnson City and talk about the idea of equity and help them understand that it’s an opportunity for them to completely improve the success of Johnson City for all its citizens,” said Dagenhart.