Tri-Cities leaders commit to collaborate, rather than compete, on economic development

Local leaders say renaming the Tri-Cities region is just one piece of a new approach to economic development, as they commit to collaborate across state and county lines. 

Bristol, Tennessee Mayor Margaret Feierabend said, for the first time, leaders from several localities are working to market the region as a whole. 

“The fate of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee is in our own hands and we have to be willing to be proactive to promote this region,” said Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads. 

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Leaders are trying to find a new name that will help the Tri-Cities stand out on the world stage. 

“A brand that speaks to the community, that speaks to our beauty, our history, our culture,” said Washington County, Tennessee Mayor Joe Grandy. 

Leaders say a new name is just one step toward a future of greater collaboration across the board. 

The branding push comes after Sullivan and Washington County held their first joint county commission meeting this past fall in recognition of this regional approach. 

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“We are viewed from the outside as one area, not as a bunch of individual counties,” said Grandy. 
So we’re going to support business growth really no matter where it takes place in our region because we’re all going to benefit.”

In Bristol, a city that straddles the Virginia-Tenessee state line, collaboration has always been a necessity for local leaders. 

Feierabend said the two sides have a long history of collaboration on tourism but, when it comes to economic development, she said things can get complicated. “The states are not very interested in cooperating with each other even if we might be,” she said. 

“On the political aspect of it, what does it look like if we send Virginia tax dollars to a business that’s located in Tennessee,” said Eads. 

PLUS: Renaming the Region

Eads said that attitude has already led to losses. “I know there have probably been opportunities where if both states could’ve worked together, we could’ve had large wins for the community,” he said.

He said state lawmakers should work together to incentivize business in border areas. 

Feierabend said, right now, “They don’t have the mechanics, they don’t have the policies, they don’t have the understanding, they don’t have the will.” 

Yet, as attitudes shift in favor of regional collaboration, local leaders hope that will change.  

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