KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) hosted an economic development round table in Kingsport Tuesday to highlight some of the region’s assets and liabilities and identify opportunities.
Rep. Roe invited several leaders from around the region to discuss areas for improvement within the realm of economic development.
After a recent visit to Hancock County, Roe said community leaders have welcomed new businesses and implemented infrastructure to implement high-speed internet availability. This, he said, is what he aims to achieve for the First Congressional District in Tennessee.
“We’ve got to figure out how to get our population growing in our area,” Roe said.
Several county mayors in attendance brought up the opioid and mental health crisis in the region. They identified the real crisis as being that there are no facilities to treat people locally.
Greene Valley Developmental Center was suggested as a possible solution.
Washington County, Tenn. Mayor Joe Grandy was among the community leaders to suggest the Greene Valley. He added that there is a “huge need,” in the area.
The Greene Valley facility officially closed in 2017, after nearly 50 years of operation as a state-run institution serving people with intellectual disabilities.
Greene Valley, many of the leaders in attendance agreed, would be the perfect location for a mental health institution, as the infrastructure is already in place, and is going to ruin due to the vacancy.
Roe said that it’s “not humane” to not have sufficient mental health treatment facilities in the region.
The congressman added that local leaders could also consider starting a public education campaign about the opioid crisis, saying that “you can’t over-educate people.”
Affordable, quality childcare was identified as an area that also needs attention from area leaders.
Unicoi County Board of Education Chairman Tyler Engle suggested more time and money be invested in developing more, as well as better, pre-kindergarten classes in area schools.
Another aspect of economic development that Representative Roe suggested area leaders promote is capitalizing on the mountains and scenery the area offers.
“We need to advertise this region as a great place to live when doing distance or online work,” Roe said.
“We’re going to have to create jobs that keep our children here,” Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable added.
One thing that Roe thinks has not been done enough is getting federal, state and local leaders together to discuss the economic development of northeast Tennessee.