BRISTOL, Tenn. — Successful economic development is blind to invisible boundaries, a consultant told local city and county leaders Tuesday.
Mac Holladay, founder and CEO of Market Street Services, an Atlanta-based economic and community development consulting firm, spoke to a group of about 20 community and business leaders from both Bristols, Sullivan County and Washington County, Virginia, at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s clearly communication and understanding the labor shed knows no boundaries. They don’t care where the city limits are or where the state line is either,” Holladay said after the 90-minute forum. “Neither does the quality of education. Neither does the quality of place because what you want is as many good choices as you can get. You want different places of different sizes to be of quality.”
Holladay said the most attractive areas for businesses have quality education, a prepared workforce and good quality of life. By contrast, he cited rural areas where hospitals have closed, describing those areas as economically “done” because health care is a key, basic consideration. Having no hospital makes it more difficult to attract new employers or families, he added.
He also said everyone involved needs to appreciate when another locality lands a business or industry.
“I was very glad to hear one of the practitioners say, ‘If I’m not going to get a business, how do I get it to go to somebody nearby?’ That’s a very important understanding that if something goes to Sullivan County, it does impact the entire region,” Holladay said. “The best regional operations we see across the country are the ones that see the crossover benefits.”
Holladay said while a locality may not land a given business, it might be able to land a spinoff or supply company. Or it may gain residents who commute to work in a neighboring locality.
“We call it holistic economic development. To look at the whole picture and know you’ve got to work on talent and quality of place,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of early childhood education and its impact on making sure children are able to read and comprehend material by the time they leave third grade. That helps strengthen and stabilize the future workforce, he said.
Bristol Virginia City Manager Randy Eads, who is also an attorney, said corrections officials study third-grade statistics to help forecast how many prison cells will be needed in the future, because high failure rates predict a range of challenges when they become adults.
Eads also said it only makes sense for the border communities to cooperate.
“I don’t know why we can’t work together. We need to work with our representatives in Richmond and Nashville to make them understand that this is a unique area of both Tennessee and Virginia, and we’re stronger together than we are separate. If we start working together, we can have a tremendous impact on this region,” Eads said.
Holladay was in town in advance of today’s Bristol 2040 steering committee meeting. The effort is a long-term visioning and economic development planning process promoted by the Chamber of Commerce.
“This was a way to have our elected officials and city staff and others who support economic development to hear from him on national trends, what he’s seen over the years and bring our regional practitioners to the table to talk about how we support them. What are their challenges? What do they do together?” said Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber. “It’s a team sport first and foremost. There are places we can help and places we have to step back and let them do their job and be a support to them.”