(WJHL) – After announcing its creation less than a month ago, the private-sector funded economic development organization, NETNHub, has announced Dennis Phillips as its launch CEO.
A longtime Tri-Cities resident and former mayor of Kingsport, Phillips’ main goal as the coalition’s new leader is clear.
“We’ve been losing in mass numbers, industry, and we’ve got to turn that around,” he said in an interview on Thursday.
Phillips believes the way to best achieve that goal is to foster teamwork and forge a common goal in Northeast Tennessee.
“My job is to get everyone that we can within the eight county region working together on economic development – and that involves all the cities, all the counties – the networks, the NETREPs – so that we’re speaking with one voice,” he said.
That singular voice will carry more weight, he says, when dealing with state economic development – the origin of most big-job projects. Still, Phillips knows there will be hurdles along the way.
“We won’t get 100 percent buy-in, but we need government and private working together,” he said. “The private is bringing in over $1 million a year to this and that’s very important.”
There was ample funding years ago for a similar business-led and funded initiative, whose aim was to invest in and retain local industry. But, The Regional Alliance for Economic Development never panned out.
“Well, it did fail,” Phillips admitted. “It failed.”
However, there is confidence that this group will find success where the alliance did not – in part, due to an advisory board made up of stakeholders at the local level.
“They’re going to be working with us, promoting this, rather than be out talking against it,” he said.
It’s that attention to detail and willingness to receive input from people involved at the ground level that will makes the difference, Phillips said.
“If you’re going to buy a new firetruck – don’t ask the city manager what kind of firetruck to buy,” he explained. “Ask the people that drive it and work on it.”
Phillips also understands that the idea of retaining and developing industry in Northeast Tennessee has changed over the decades. Now, tourism is as big an industry as there is for this area – an aspect on which the coalition intends to capitalize.
“We need to work hand in hand with tourism and we need to get our tourism beefed up to the point where we have people coming here for more than just one reason,” he said.
As of right now, NETNHub is dealing with Northeast Tennessee counties only. But, that doesn’t mean a future expansion into nearby Southwest Virginia communities is out of the question.
“It’s on the table,” Phillips said matter-of-factly. “”We need to see if we can get our own house together. Southwest Virginia is a very important part of our area.”
The road to unifying the cause for regional economic development won’t be an easy one to travel, but on his first official day as CEO – Phillips is nothing but optimistic.
“I know it will work – if we can do it right,” he said.
Phillips explained his appointment to CEO will be a temporary position that will see him serve a year or two. The goal is to soon hand over the keys to someone younger who embraces fully the task at hand.
“We’ve got to get Johnson City and Kingsport and Bristol and the other cities all talking to each other and realizing that we all win with economic development being together,” he said.