| BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS – Weakley County Economic Development Board CEO Ronnie Price and board chair Nick Dunagan said the key to economic growth is to develop regional partnerships. |
As unemployment numbers reach an all-time high and factories turn into shells of what used to be, communities are building modern “partnerships” with one another in an effort to sell the region to prospective industries.
“We consider the 90s to be the Golden Age. Things were looking up in the economy and auto suppliers were moving south,” Nick Dunagan recalled.
Dunagan is a retired chancellor for the University of Tennessee at Martin who now sits as chairman of the Weakley County Economic Development Board.
He and Ronnie Price, CEO of the county’s economic development board offered insight into the regional efforts being fostered by the board.
“Things have been really positive from the county and regional standpoint as opposed to each community doing their own thing. That is what this board has done. Members of each community in the county are represented on this board which serves as a marketing arm for the county,” Dunagan said.
The key is working together within the county, then working with adjoining counties until the region is well-represented and then looking to the state for partnerships, according to Price and Dunagan.
“The majority of our leads come in through the state and the TVA. The state has all of our information about spec buildings, employers, population and education opportunities. We let them know what we have,” Price shared.
In times of economic distress, it’s easy to focus on the negative. Price and Dunagan chose to focus on the positive resources the county, region and state have to offer prospective industries.
“Champion Homes just signed an eight-year lease with Calpaco in Dresden. Regency Pad in Martin just expanded. I hope that it is long term. The farmer’s co-op just broke ground on a fertilizer plant in Martin,” Price said.
“You have to look for ways to distinguish yourself from other communities too. And we are very fortunate to have the University of Tennessee at Martin right here in the county,” Dunagan added. UTM is the largest employer in the county.
“Tennessee has a good workforce. It is a right to work state, which means that you don’t have to join a Union. We care about our quality of life. We are aggressive on our incentives and are property tax rates are competitive,” Price noted.
“When you’re talking about the county, we have a great public school system. We have low crime rates. We have a good road system and we have a university right here in the county. We’ve got our infrastructure set up. We can respond in a timely manner when inquiries do come in and when the economy does pick up,” Dunagan said.
Both stressed the importance of working with the state as well as neighbors to promote economic growth.
The regional airport is one example of counties working across the lines to get funding. A partnership between West Kentucky and Northwest Tennessee is in place that will help secure future grant funding for the two regions.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is considered a partner with the county as well.
“We’ve shown support for Cates Landing, I-69 and the West Tennessee Megasite. The way we see it, we are not competing with Milan, Tenn. We are competing with Milan, Italy,” Price said.
The Weakley County Economic Development Board meets monthly, each time in a different community within the county. Members of the board include all city mayors, realtors, bankers, business owners, state employees, the county mayor and staff members of UTM.
“The board works well together and things are looking up. We’re getting more inquiries in our area in spite of the overall economy. Our community has been aggressive and we’ll continue to be,” Price added.