The University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services (UT CIS) is partnering with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) and the Tennessee Development District Association (TDDA) to help rural counties build on their assets to promote economic growth.
The Asset-Based Planning Initiative, led by TNECD as part of the Governor’s Rural Task Force, brings together community stakeholders to develop project-focused goals that can be undertaken to spur jobs and investment. The initiative started in 2016 with 23 economically distressed or at-risk counties and expanded in 2017 to serve an additional 21 counties across the state. As part of the initiative, representatives from UT CIS and TDDA facilitate community forums in each of the counties to identify ways to capitalize on the county’s unique economic development assets. Once the asset-based plans are completed, TNECD and other resource partners work with the counties to implement projects to advance their goals.
“Both rounds of the initiative have been very successful with innovative goals and ideas coming out of the community forums,” said UT CIS Economic Development Program Manager Beth Phillips. “We are excited to see projects being undertaken in the first-round counties to advance the goals that were identified and are pleased to be working with an additional 21 counties to help them build on their economic assets. There is so much energy in these forums when leaders come together to generate ideas for their communities.”
Following the forums, UT CIS developed individual reports for each of the counties. The reports include a recap of the forum, short- and long-term priority goals identified by the participants and an inventory of assets identified through the planning process. A summary report identifies key themes and opportunities shared across all counties.
Many counties expressed an interest in increasing retail development and others identified the wealth of natural and cultural assets that they can leverage to promote tourism development. Counties also focused on leveraging partnerships with educational institutions and business and industry to attract and retain a competitive workforce. The need for infrastructure improvements, including broadband connectivity, was identified by many counties as key to capitalizing on economic development opportunity.
The most recent Asset Based Planning forums were in Benton, Carroll, Carter, Chester, Clay, Decatur, Grainger, Greene, Hardin, Henderson, Hickman, Houston, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Obion, Overton, Polk, Unicoi and Weakley counties. These follow 2016 forums held in Bledsoe, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Fentress, Grundy, Hancock, Hardeman, Haywood, Johnson, Lake, Lauderdale, Lewis, McNairy, Morgan, Perry, Pickett, Rhea, Scott, Union, Van Buren, Wayne and White counties.