Vision for the Future

Shaping Destiny

Washington County Tennessee's Economic Future

Over the past several decades, Washington County has built a strong, diverse economic base. Taking advantage of a good work force, competitive wage scale, and business-friendly policies, the county has developed several solid pillars that leave it with relatively low unemployment. These pillars include health care, government, and services ranging from retail and residential construction to call centers. At the same time, the county has continued to successfully recruit and retain a core of industrial employers that offer quality jobs.

Despite all the positive signs, Washington County stands at a very important crossroads. Much of its growth has taken place during a prolonged period of economic stability, and anyone not living in a cave knows that the United States appears to be early in a period of less-than-stable economic conditions. Current conditions raise questions about the future fortunes of local communities. Will there be any positive economic news anywhere? (Yes.) If private capital is flowing to some degree and creating jobs somewhere, what are the necessary ingredients for a community to attract that capital and those jobs? What should be the role, if any, of local government in the quest to gather and mix the right ingredients for growth?

If Washington County boasts the region's fairest assets for economic developers to show off, it stands to reason that it could successfully market any available property that is suitable for industrial or business/corporate development. This leaves the county's elected leaders with several important questions to answer:

  • Do we want to pursue acquisition of land with the aim of increasing employment growth and diversification in Washington County?

  • If so, how much land should we seek?

  • Is that much land available in a location that would be viable for economic development?

  • Assuming answers to the questions above, what should we do with that land in terms of infrastructure development, marketing and vision for its use? Should we develop a strategic plan, and if so, how should it dovetail with regional economic development efforts?

  • What developing employment sector trends fit well with Washington County's current strengths, and what areas do we need to strengthen or develop (in, for instance, education, quality of life, etc.) to fully capitalize on these trends?

The struggle to attract capital investment and jobs is only going to grow more competitive in the coming years. Washington County has many of the raw materials necessary to create a niche for itself, and in the process become one of the winners in this contest that is more than just a game. County leaders will take big steps in that direction if we figure out the best strategy for strengthening our education and workforce development; if we continue to protect the high quality of life we have nestled here in the shadow of the Southern Appalachians, and indeed enhance those quality of life indicators; and if we maintain low taxes and business-friendly policies. If we do all these things, however, and we neglect to develop a top-flight business park that is large enough to attract employers for the next 20 years, all of those other efforts will have been largely in vain. For of what benefit are great schools, fabulous parks and other amenities, favorable taxes and attractive neighborhoods if there aren't enough employers providing a sufficient tax base to maintain them?