Kingsport BMA hopefuls face off in candidate forum

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Kingsport’s potential future leadership discussed a variety of topics at a virtual forum Wednesday night, hosted by the city’s chamber of commerce.

The future of retail in Kingsport is uncertain after the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to online shopping. Some of the Kingsport alderman candidates had suggestions for drumming up business after one of America’s toughest economic years.

“We should be recruiting gun manufacturers that are fleeing left-wing policies in blue states. With Bristol Motor Speedway right down the road, we would be a perfect location for research and development for a company like Tesla, that is leaving California due to high taxes,” candidate Joe Carr said.

Incumbent Betsy Cooper hopes to retain her seat as an alderman for Kingsport. She said her background in education would help her in growing skills not just for K–12 students, but preschool and higher education students as well.

“I think we need to, to expand the skills to go down to preschool level, we have adopted their sort of the Common Core standards so that our children when they leave our preschool be ready to go into kindergarten, getting on the other end of that the higher ed, we have RCAM in TCAT downtown that do some of the training that we’re talking about that do the training to get people job-ready. So I think we need to work on both ends of the spectrum,” she said

Business-centered candidates like pharmacist Bob Harshbarger and former Chamber of Commerce Chair Paul Montgomery had suggestions for the potential future of Kingsport’s businesses.

“I would like to see Kingsport stronger than it is today. And I see that by having a more vibrant downtown, more entertainment downtown, a place where people can go and see a show, and go to dinner,” Montgomery said.

With Amazon naming Alcoa, Tennessee, as a next site, Harshbarger said that Kingsport could be the home of larger companies, potentially.

“The way you set yourself apart is customer service. That’s how we’re going to have to set ourselves apart from online retailers. Amazon has built a second to none, customer-focused approach. And so, for businesses locally to, I guess, compete with this they’re going to have to focus on things that are online retailers like Amazon and Walmart and such that they can’t provide,” he suggested.

Another incumbent alderman, Colette George, said her experience as a realtor in downtown Kingsport gives her an edge when making suggestions for the business future of Kingsport.

“If you have a developer, that is going to come in and bring stores that are not in competition in this area, that provide a service to our citizens that they need. We need to look at what opportunities incentives are available,” George said.

The issues of homelessness and the opioid pandemic have been paramount over the last few years in the city of Kingsport, and alderman-hopefuls spoke of possible plans for the future at the forum Wednesday night.

“Fiber-optic lines and free broadband, that’s something that larger progressive cities are doing, what’s wrong with a smaller city doing that? I think Kingsport could lead the way in the Tri-Cities. We could be a technological magnet for people too,” author J.S. Moore said.

Former Foreign Service officer Sara Buchanan said Wednesday that she had a difficult decision to make when deciding to run for the office of alderman, since she would have to give up her role in the federal government. Her vision for her hometown, however, won that particular moral dilemma, she said at the forum.

“The issue of homelessness, the issue of urban blight, the issue of safety and criminality in our city is very very important to me and it really breaks my heart to see that more money and time will be spent on a dog shelter than it will for people who are homeless. So I am going to bring the compassion to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen,” Buchanan said.

Candidate Wesley Combs said at the forum he hopes to lead Kingsport into the future.

“A movement that’s occurring with circular economy here in Kingsport that we could easily tag on to and make a nationwide name out of Kingsport that we can recycle, any plastic so no plastic ends up in the landfill anymore, and no cardboard ends up in the landfill anymore I think those are pretty promising things in today’s world,” Combs said.

One candidate, Gerald Sensabaugh, was not present at the Wednesday forum.

If you missed the forum, you can watch it in its entirety here:

Election day is May 18 with early voting taking place from April 28 to May 13. Absentee ballots can be requested until May 11.

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