One Kingsport work groups working hard on big ideas

Matthew Lane • Jan 24, 2016 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — The work groups that were born out of last year’s One Kingsport summit have spent the past two months gathering information, brainstorming ideas and deciding how to refine those ideas into specific recommendations.

Initial steps have generally involved crafting a mission statement, breaking the overall work group into smaller subcommittees and setting priorities. At a recent called meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, members of four of the seven work groups gave updates on their efforts and the next steps they plan to take in the coming months.

“The seven work groups have formed and are working hard,” Mayor John Clark said at the meeting. The goal of the summit is to spark private investment in Kingsport, a plan that can be implemented over a five-year period of time, he added.

The One Kingsport summit brought together 190 business and community leaders, regular citizens, elected officials and Millennials, all with a sole purpose in mind: to kick-start the process of developing a five-year road map for the Model City.

Seven focus areas were discussed at the summit, and following the two-day event, work groups for each area were established and filled with volunteers, a city staffer and an alderman to come up with specific recommendations to the BMA.

Two of the work groups have previously given updates to the BMA — downtown and destination city — and four more gave an update on their progress earlier this month. Common themes among the four groups was they each had more than 20 members, they had met several times and had formed smaller subcommittees to focus on specific ideas.

YMCA Executive Director Charlie Glass, who heads the health and wellness work group, said his group of 27 volunteers started out with plenty of great ideas and began with a mission statement to help guide their process.

The group identified three things to filter every idea through: Can it be done in three to five years? If done, will it help grow the population? Is it within the scope of our mission?

“The task forces of smaller groups will be doing further filtering so we’re capturing all of the ideas,” Glass said. Some of the broad ideas could focus on access to healthy options, parks and green spaces, Bays Mountain, policy changes and incentives.

Glass said the group believes Kingsport should have a culture of health and wellness and that the Healthy Kingsport organization would be a good asset for implementation.

The housing work group has 30 members on its rolls and is working to come up with big ideas to tackle an issue many city and elected officials say is critical to Kingsport’s future.

“We are taking this charge very seriously,” said former Mayor Jeanette Blazier, who is the leading the group. “It’s a big subject and we’re looking at it in a comprehensive manner.”

As with the health and wellness work group, the housing folks have also divided into subcommittees, while three members of the larger group have joined with three members of the downtown work group to take a joint look at ideas involving downtown housing.

The point being that there’s no overlapping of efforts and that both groups are aware of what the other is doing.

Blazier said her group is looking to identify the gaps Kingsport has with its housing market and the needed housing types, with the next step being to analyze the gathered data.

Julie Bennett, general counsel at the Bristol Motor Speedway, is the shepherd for the job creation and entrepreneurship work group, a panel of 23 members she calls “very active” and “engaged” in the task at hand.

Creating a rich, supportive entrepreneurial environment is one of the main goals of the One Kingsport summit, and Bennett’s work group has formed five smaller research groups to focus on specific concepts for how entrepreneurship can improve in the Model City.

What does an entrepreneurial environment look like? What is the method of identifying potential entrepreneurs, and what are the ideas for educating and training potential ones? Bennettt said the work group is brainstorming ideas for attracting and retaining new businesses and identifying the methods and approaches taken by other communities.

“We’ve had great input and some great ideas,” Bennett said. “We’re putting all these ideas into recommendations we can flesh out, support and build upon and then bring back to you in March.”

The fourth and final update to the BMA recently came from the arts and entertainment work group, led by Dobyns-Bennett band director Lafe Cook. Initial meetings of that work group, like all of the other groups, were spent brainstorming ideas.

Cook said several themes arose from those meetings, including the expansion of public art within the city, creating a performing arts venue space and possibly expanding existing festivals, such as Fun Fest.

Again, like the other work groups, the arts and entertainment panel has been divided into subcommittees, which will make reports to the overall group every two weeks.

“I feel like we’ll have transformational ideas,” Cook said.

The education work group — led by former Mayor Dennis Phillips — has not given an update yet. All seven work groups are expected to present their recommendations to the BMA in the March/April time frame.

“Everyone is putting their best foot forward, and by the end of the five years, we should be able to say we’ve achieved our goal,” Clark said following the presentations.

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