ETSU economic forum expected to focus on regional collaboration


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- After decades of competition among communities, a new economic development strategy is shaking things up.

“If you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, Einstein called that insanity,” said Dr. Dennis Depew, dean of East Tennessee State University’s College of Business and Technology. “We’re at a tipping point where we realize it’s time for a call to action.”

Regionalism is expected to be a focus of ETSU’s “Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia Regional Economic Forum.”

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Cantler is among the 400 business leaders, government officials and engaged citizens expected to attend the event, scheduled for September 10th.

Cantler said regional cooperation is critical to put the area on the map in a global economy and counter population decline.

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ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland and Professor Jon Smith are expected to present a “regional economic snapshot.”

Smith shared data with News Channel 11 that showed regional neighbors like Asheville have made a come back since the Great Recession.

Meanwhile, metropolitan statistical areas in the Tri-Cities have watched workforce population substantially decline.

“Young people are chasing opportunities and the opportunities right now seem to be in areas around Nashville, Knoxville, Chatanooga, Atlanta, Charlotte,” Depew said.

That’s why the university is trying to change the conversation and bring more businesses here.

“If you really look around the country, they like to locate around big universities and there’s a big reason for that. Universities have a lot of intellectual capital,” Depew said.

Later in the morning, another speaker will provide insight into what it takes to be competitive in a global economy and how rural areas can reinvent themselves, according to Depew.

“It’s simply because we’re so interconnected nationally and internationally, you have to think globally,” he said. “If you’re living in a bubble you’re probably in trouble.”

A panel discussion of education and business leaders is expected to pick up around 11 a.m.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has been invited to speak but has yet to confirm his attendance.

You can view the full agenda and register for the September 10th event here.

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