Jobs Now!—the regional economic development campaign that is well into its third year—held its annual investors' luncheon last week, and its reported results for 2003-04 were impressive.
Besides its already heralded marketing achievements for the Knoxville area, it boasted of achieving or surpassing goals it set for itself in three key areas: providing new jobs, gaining non-residential capital investment, and elevating the average annual wage level in the six-county Knoxville metropolitan statistical area.
According to figures supplied by Younger & Associates, a Jackson, Tenn., market research consultant, the MSA netted 11,320 new jobs in two years—2,667 through recruitment and 5,462 through expansions, or 103 percent of its jobs goal for the period. The consultant's report said the capital investment gain of a little more than a billion dollars was 129 percent of goal, and the average wage increased by a little more than $1,173 to $32,509 in 2003, an increase to 138 percent of goal for the only year reported. That wage rise represents 23 percent of its overall goal for the five years ending with 2007.
The two years were not separated out, but it's understood that the region fared better in 2003 than in '04, and Sharon Younger, the Younger & Associates president, told the gathering that competition from other aggressive regional efforts will make meeting all of the five-year goals a tough proposition in the years ahead. Fortunately, the strongest part of the Jobs Now! record has been in marketing, with the identification of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley and its motto, "Resources, Opportunity, Imagination," gaining recognition in national publications and surveys of the kind that cross the desks of CEOs seeking relocation and looking for the best spots to consider for their business purposes.
The marketing effort has stressed the location, workforce and its education levels, available properties, tax and incentive structures and general livability of the whole area. Included are the counties that recently shared the Nine Counties. One Vision. process and the 16-county middle East Tennessee area served by the East Tennessee Economic Development Agency, whose executive vice president, Michael Harvey, is also the Jobs Now! executive director.
Stressing the advantages shared across the region, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam pointed out how new jobs and investment in surrounding counties helps Knoxville grow and how those same jobs in Knoxville help the surrounding counties to thrive.
Haslam and Mayor Mike Ragsdale of Knox County served as effective cheerleaders for the Jobs Now! program. They praised its efforts and results and set the stage for continued collaboration and contributions on the part of the investors. It's been a good program so far, and it can be better with full participation of those parties who've been supporting it to date.
The ETEDA is one funding agency, joined by the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership, the Blount Partnership and the Oak Ridge Economic Partnership. Other investors in the public/private effort include governments, businesses, associations and organizations from across the region, and not just from inside the MSA, which includes Anderson, Blount, Loudon, Sevier and Union Counties, along with Knox. Together, they've ponied up $1.9 million for 2005 to continue the $12 million Jobs Now! mission, which is based on business recruiting and regional marketing and encouragement of business retention, expansions and start-ups. Knoxville and Knox County are each expected to commit $400,000 from tax revenues for the coming year in their mayors' budget proposals.
The program can build on its early successes if those who've invested in it will stay the course for the full five years. Some of its biggest triumphs may yet be on the drawing boards of companies already here or thinking about coming here. Let's keep after them.
It may not seem like a big thing in the overall budget picture for Knoxville and Knox County, but one item in the city mayor's proposed budget for next year caught our eye.
Metro Pulse has been a longtime supporter of the idea that Knoxville should have a special—and legal—place for skateboarders to hone and enjoy their skills.
Such a skateboard park is finally in the works, with $200,000 in Mayor Haslam's city budget proposal and a similar amount expected in the Knox County mayor's budget. Let's hope City Council and County Commission keep those hopes alive when the budgets go to them for their votes.
The number of skaters continues to grow, and the need for a spot where they can practice their boardwork in a safe setting they can call their own calls for a publicly financed park.
We produce tennis courts, basketball courts, ball fields and golf courses and facilities for a host of other sports and leisure activities. Skating is a worthy athletic endeavor, especially when it's not conducted on streets, sidewalks, or other venues where the hazards to skaters and others are evident. Surely we're up to the idea of creating a skate park. It's not that large a public investment when the benefit is measured.