Tennessee’s Best Kept Secret
Greene County Partnership
The Greene County Partnership is an umbrella organization located in Greeneville, Tennessee, that brings together the Greene County Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development, Tourism, Education & Workforce Development, and the county’s environmental arm, Keep Greene Beautiful. Business in Focus spoke with Matt Garland, Greene County Partnership’s President and CEO, to learn more about this dynamic and growing county.
Centrally located in the Eastern United States, Greene County is in one of the prime locations in Tennessee. Easily accessible by Interstate 81, and 70 miles northeast of Knoxville, Greene County is a hub for more than 20 manufacturing and distribution companies. The Greene County Partnership (GCP) was founded in 1993 as a partnership between business and local government to provide all-encompassing services to the community. The GCP provides collective leadership and services to existing businesses while also serving as a facilitator for businesses seeking to locate in the county.
“Within the Partnership we have Economic Development, which includes industrial recruitment, jobs, expansions, growth with industry; we have a Department of Tourism; youth and adult leadership programs; and a Keep America Beautiful affiliate, which is called Keep Greene Beautiful,” explains Garland. “We also have an educational workforce development component within the Partnership, and we also assist with agriculture. The heart of our organization is our Chamber of Commerce. We try to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for any type of service so that anybody in the community, or coming into the community, could reach out to us and get more information or get the assistance they need.”
In terms of GCP’s evolution, one of the primary aims of the organization has been to increase the economic development of the county and grow the number of jobs available within the region. Expanding commercial and retail opportunities has also been an important focus that GCP has sought to push forward. But Garland also emphasizes that servicing existing companies in the county is a key priority for GCP.
“We want to reach out to existing companies and industries within the community to provide assistance, so we focus on existing industry as much as, if not more than recruitment [of new industry] to make sure they have what they need, and to make sure we are providing the services for them that they want to thrive and grow within the community,” notes Garland.
GCP is also focused on ensuring that the businesses in the community are able to access the workforce they need to grow and thrive. This benefits students in the community too, as it ensures that they complete an education that will lead to a skilled and well-paying job.
“We’ve emphasized our education and workforce development department,” says Garland. “We have a committee that meets monthly because we can have the greatest sites, the greatest buildings, but if we don’t have trained talent to meet the workforce needs, then we don’t grow our jobs. So we are currently partnering with a manufacturer’s council and the education workforce development committee to assess those needs, and then we partner with education providers such as the Tennessee College for Applied Technology, the Green Technology Centre, the Walter State Community College, and Tusculum College. We work with this group to identify what programs of work are needed and how we can train talent so that students get educated in Greene County and they are able to work in Greene County.”
For prospective employers wishing to locate in Greene County, GCP conducts a thorough needs assessment for their workforce – what types of training their employees might need and how GCP can leverage the partnership that they have developed with the region’s education providers to ensure that a new enterprise has access to the right workforce by having an education provider delivering a curriculum that suits these needs.
“If they need a welding class, or they need technical mathematics, or aviation skills, or manufacturing on diesel machines, we can work with all our education providers to put together that curriculum,” explains Garland. “In a perfect world, when a prospect comes in, while their buildings are being built, we are building their talent.”
GCP offers Greene County teachers the opportunity during their in-service times to go out to manufacturers with the guidance counselors from the high schools so they can see firsthand what goes on in a manufacturing plant. GCP also has plans for Fall 2017 to host a career fair in the county. Previously, GCP has sent approximately one thousand students to a regional career fair, but the GCP feels strongly that they want to keep this talent within Greene County, so the development of an in-county career fair is a big priority for the GCP.
“Selfishly, we want to keep that talent in Greene County, so what we are trying to do is put together a career fair that’s not just companies sitting behind tables handing out flyers and applications, but one where students can actually can go and touch a CNC [computer numerical control] machine or they can get in a truck and see how it works, or they can climb on a cement mixer. We are also going to invite businesses and the hospitals, so if students wanted to learn how to be a phlebotomist, they can actually learn how to run a vein, or put stitches in. So we want to present the bright, shiny objects that kids can touch. Rather than just being talked to, they get to see stuff,” says Garland.
Manufacturing is a major sector in Greene County, so GCP is also trying to encourage students to learn more about it by sponsoring a contest that will encourage students to partner with a manufacturer and make a video to explain why manufacturing is cool. The videos will be posted online and voted upon, and the winning student will be recognized for their entry at the end of the program.
GCP is also in the process of working with the State of Tennessee to qualify for the Select Tennessee Certified Sites Program, with the goal of having a 27-acre, shovel-ready site to offer to prospective businesses seeking to locate in Greene County. The Select Tennessee Certified Sites Program is a process whereby development risks are minimized to new companies by ensuring that any certified site has a minimum of 20 developable acres, has utilities on site or a formal extension plan in place, has boundary surveys and topographical mapping completed, and has documented environmental conditions and completed geotechnical analysis. All of these sites are certified by Austin Consulting and Foote Consulting. GCP has been awarded a grant of over half a million dollars through the State of Tennessee to develop a certified site for this program and this will be the first site of its kind for Greene County.
“We can offer you the site, we can offer you the talent; we want you to come live with us,” enthuses Garland.
To be sure, Greene County is attractive to prospective businesses for so many reasons. Its enviable location provides a draw to new businesses, as the county is located in close proximity to four major interstate highways, with one of them (the I-81) running directly through the county. Highway 11 also runs through the county, providing four-lane transportation. Getting in and out of the county is easy for moving goods – a feature that is extremely important for the manufacturing sector.
Greene County is the second largest county geographically in Tennessee, so it has a lot of land to offer prospective businesses and the Partnership is working hard to ensure that this land will be shovel-ready (through the Select Tennessee program, for example). Green County also boasts a low cost of living, low taxes, and small town community living that is still within easy reach of larger metropolitan areas. The County has also been ranked fourth for the most green-build city schools in the state, offering a great education system for families living in the county.
Greene County is an attractive location for tourism as well. It was the home of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, as well as the home of Davy Crockett, the 19th century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician, so the area is rich in history and very popular with Civil War history buffs.
GCP also has a focus on community development and enhancing the retail experience for residents. “We want that retail and commercial experience for people coming in so we are actively recruiting in terms of trying to figure out the best fits for the retail and commercial companies and how we can recruit them and offer them a nice space. For instance, in downtown, we are meeting with owners of buildings to figure out what they would like to see and then what’s the best fit for the downtown area,” says Garland.
As well, “Walter State is getting ready to open up a new campus downtown. When it is up and running fully, it will hold 2,000 students. We would like to capture that group of individuals and keep them downtown, so you’ve got to be able to offer the services; you’ve got to be offering great food, coffee shops, bookstores, places to go and hang out, retail shopping. If we can capture the needs and wants of those students, and pair them with the building owners and their needs and wants for their buildings, then I think we can come together and offer not only traditional manufacturing jobs but retail/commercial jobs as well, and provide all of those services for the community,” says Garland.
Greene County is an area that is clearly coming into its own – growing and expanding to support its residents and the many companies that have chosen the area as their base of operations. As Garland notes, the county has often been referred to as Tennessee’s best kept secret, but Garland thinks that it is time for this to evolve. “I don’t want us to be a secret any longer. I want everyone to know that we’re ready for business and we have something to offer everybody. We have been Tennessee’s best kept secret, but it’s time to let that secret out!”