WJHL – Regional economic development leaders hope a unified database of business needs and opportunities will help garner federal and state aid for economic recovery months from now. In the meantime, the same database will provide consumers an avenue to help area businesses now.
A coalition of local chambers of commerce, two economic development organizations and a regional tourism group are hastily producing a website, regionahead.com, that will allow business owners to input critical information into a database. Within days, that information will be used to create a section of the website featuring listings, resources and other consumer information that will allow local people to help businesses and each other.
The information sharing platform is called Appalachian Highlands Economic Aid Directory, Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership CEO Mitch Miller said. He said along with NETWORKS-Sullivan Partnership counterpart Clay Walker, he had been talking with the chamber of commerce leaders in Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol as well as Northeast Tennessee Travel and Tourism Association Director Alicia Phelps.
All of them knew a major economic shock has begun, and both short and long-term solutions were needed.
“It really kind of pushed us to say, we’ve got to do something collectively together,” Miller said. “Because ultimately when it comes down to it, collecting this information, having a voice as a region is going to be helpful as we look for local support, federal support state support in all of this.”
Before that time comes, Miller and the other partners hope the directory section, which could be live by sometime next week, will help some businesses blunt the impact of COVID-19’s short-term economic effects.
“I could go searching throughout Facebook and see which company wants you to buy gift cards or which company’s doing online yoga classes, but not everyone’s on Facebook,” Miller said. “If we could have this one centralized portal where people could put things in, it gives us the ability to populate that out and share that out and talk about good things that are happening.”
That information could range from things like yoga studios offering online classes to businesses transitioning to curbside service and needing to get the word out. But it’s three, four or six months down the road that Miller said he sees the potential for even greater impact.
“Three, four months out when we really start to assess the damages and what’s been done to our economy, we can have a unified voice. We have a voice that we can go to Nashville with, that we can go to Washington, D.C. with or even to our local city council, our commission, and tell them, ‘hey, we have 10 people that are experiencing this problem – we have 100 people that are experiencing this problem. Can we put our efforts here and really support this?’”
Businesses that visit the input section can enter a point of contact, business name, email and phone number, city and county, operating hours, type of business and operations. It also provides a space to tell others how to help.
Businesses can also enter information about take out options, closures and other information that could assist them until the day-to-day situation improves.
Miller said the quick collaboration and decision exemplifies a growing sense of regionalism in the area and could be a sign of its acceleration. “We’re stronger together and I think that’s part of why we all came together on this.”
ACCESS THE SITE: REGIONAHEAD.COM