Chamber of Commerce has offered key support in Johnson City’s growth

As we reflect on the Sesquicentennial celebration for Johnson City, we look back on the impact that the Chamber of Commerce has played in the development of our community. The Johnson City Chamber has been the advocate and voice of our business community since 1915.

The population of Johnson City increased because of the railroad and being a destination for commerce and employment. Throughout the past century and a half, we have transitioned from a farming to industrial and manufacturing economy, which created the need for an organization such as the Chamber to unite the business community, provide opportunities and resources, networking, credibility, recruitment, and advocacy for its stakeholders and community.

As we focus on the history of the Johnson City Chamber, the leaders of our organization have been the champions that encouraged and led this community to grow into the place we proudly call home. This region has grown from the vision and hard work of many of our business leaders, beginning with our first Chamber Chair Amzi Smith to our current chair Neil Poland with Mullican Flooring.

Many institutions and projects that were championed by our business leaders are still a part of our city today. In 1924, the Hotel John Sevier was constructed and funded by subscriptions collected by the Chamber. We also worked closely with Elizabethton to secure the American Bemberg Plant in 1926. Throughout the middle of the century, the Chamber participated in the founding of General Shale, the opening of Tri-Cities Regional Airport, and the first broadcast at WJHL.

Johnson City business leaders were the key supporters for the East Tennessee Normal School, which formed four years before the Chamber of Commerce. We now recognize this institution as East Tennessee State University, which is the fourth-largest university in Tennessee. The growth of ETSU has aligned with the support of the Chamber and community to develop the Quillen College of Medicine and the Gatton College of Pharmacy.

Industrial recruitment for Washington County was directed by the Chamber with the forming of the JC Industrial Park Corporation to purchase and recruit new industries to the county. We were home to Harris Tarkett Flooring, Gordon’s Inc, Sherman Concrete Company, Accurate Machine Products, and many other manufacturers. The Model Mill Company, located on West Walnut Street, produced Red Band Flour, and once renovated, will become the new home for the Chamber in 2020.

We need to acknowledge the many men and women who pioneered the growth of Johnson City from the railroad to becoming a leading destination for Rural Healthcare Services and Innovation. The Chamber of Commerce has been fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers and business leaders throughout the century that were on the frontlines for many of our city’s accomplishments. We were fortunate to have the leadership of Gary Mabrey as our president and CEO over the past three decades that provided the strong foundation and positioned the Chamber and our community for the growth we are experiencing today.

As we transition into a new decade, the Johnson City Chamber is excited about our move to the Model Mill. Not only will our organization have a home representative of the quality of our services, but will also enhance our ability to position our community for growth. We hope to recruit new organizations and people to the region and plan to tell our story at the Model Mill location overlooking downtown Johnson City. In addition to our traditional Chamber services, we plan to offer more services and direction for entrepreneurs and business development in the region.

The Chamber’s Convention & Visitors Bureau invites visitors to our community through conventions, sporting, and special events. The impact from tourism brings a significant amount of revenue into our economy which helps to sustain growth and lower the tax base for all citizens. Tourism is also a front door for recruiting people and talent to our region, whether it’s young professionals appreciating our many outdoor amenities, or retirees that enjoy the value of Johnson City’s quality of life.

At this Sesquicentennial, we celebrate our history and the leaders that provided the benefits and opportunities we enjoy today and look optimistically to the future of Johnson City growing healthier and stronger.

Bob Cantler is president and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County.


A letter to the future: Dear Johnson City Mayor of 2069

Serving as mayor during Johnson City’s Sesquicentennial Celebration has been a great honor. I have learned so much about our beloved city, mostly from you.

Our community has researched our history, recorded it in books, articles and events, and educated each other about how we became this great city. Our sesquicentennial will culminate today at the Legacy Plaza, which includes a history circle and tri-star area, at King Commons.

This legacy project will forever tell the story of Johnson City and give future generations a space to add their own moments of history. Beneath the plaza, we will bury a time capsule to be opened in 50 years. Included will be a letter from me to the Mayor of 2069. That person may be just a teenager now or may not even be born yet, but I know whoever it is, they will inherit this wonderful, beautiful city we call home. I’d like to share my letter with you and hope that if you are able, you will attend the opening of the bicentennial time capsule and remember reading it in the Johnson City Press way back in 2019.

Happy birthday, Johnson City. Thank you for an amazing year.

Dear Mayor of 2069,

Greetings from 2019. It has been a great year in Johnson City as we celebrated our sesquicentennial birthday. Our citizens have taken time to research the past, record it in books, articles and events, and educate each other about our heritage. It was with thoughtful consideration that our Sesquicentennial Commission elected to leave the legacy project – a natural adventure area playground, tri-star area, and history circle – at King Commons for future generations to enjoy. Our history is now literally set in stone, never to be forgotten.

Congratulations on your 200th birthday. I can only imagine the advances that have been made in 50 years. As you reveal our time capsule, you will likely get a chuckle at the technology that fuels our communication today. Just in case it has changed, our cell phones are the center of our lives. We take pictures (especially selfies), save them to “the cloud,” post to Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and spread all our news on Twitter. If we don’t “Google” information on the internet ourselves, we ask virtual assistants Siri or Alexa to do it for us. As all our data becomes electronic, protecting it is a constant endeavor in 2019. I hope your digital assets are safe in 2069.

The City Commission of 2019 has had a very active year. Mayor Jenny Brock, Vice Mayor Joe Wise, Commissioner Dr. Todd Fowler, Commissioner Dr. Larry Calhoun and Commissioner John Hunter, City Manager Pete Peterson and our 900 City employees leave you our annual report. We are most proud of the features we have added to improve the quality of life of our citizens. Johnson City is becoming a premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts. We are leveraging our natural assets with investments like Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park and the Tweetsie Trail. We believe outdoor recreation not only draws visitors in but enhances quality of place so that people and businesses want to call Johnson City home. I hope that vision is your reality in 2069.

On the city’s bicentennial birthday, we send our best wishes for a year of peace and prosperity. While we are leaving you a healthy and vibrant city, we also recognize that you will still face challenges. We hope we have provided a foundation that is resilient and sustainable as you work toward success for this beautiful place we call home.

With regard,

Jenny L. Brock

Mayor, City of Johnson City


Revitalizing downtown Johnson City: Creating space for all

I heard a statement recently that has stayed with me, “Downtowns are the one place in a city that belongs to everyone.” I believe that is certainly true for us in Johnson City. Downtown is an integral part of our history, and as we focus on recruiting business and young professionals to our city, the way our downtown is perceived becomes even more important. Downtowns are iconic and powerful symbols for a city and often contain the most recognizable landmarks, distinctive features, and unique neighborhoods.

I would go as far as suggesting a city’s downtown area has an important and unique role in economic and social development. Downtowns create a critical mass of activities where commercial, cultural, and civic activities are concentrated. This concentration facilitates business, learning, and cultural exchange.

So why do we need to continue with downtown revitalization? Is the answer for talent attraction, historic preservation or economic development? I believe it is these three reasons and more.

One of the best ways for towns and cities to spur economic growth today is by reinvigorating their historic commercial corridors and putting their character-rich older and historic buildings to work. “In the New Economy, place matters most,” argues Urban Land Institute Fellow Ed McMahon. “In a world where capital is footloose, if you can’t differentiate from any other place, you will have no competitive advantage.”

Recently, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership was able to convince ebm-papst to locate their US headquarters in the Washington County Industrial Park. As part of ebm-papst’s visits to our area, they requested to visit downtown Johnson City multiple times. Often we see our restaurants full of corporate executives from businesses all over the region having dinner in downtown.

Visitors to the ETSU campus, whether it is potential students, future employees or alumni, typically can be seen walking through downtown. The importance of how our downtown presents itself makes a statement to those who are considering living here. If a community has a vibrant, restored downtown, it makes the city an attractive place to live, grow a business, send children to school, recreate or grow a career or even retire.

With the addition of public greenspaces, high speed fiber, restaurants and breweries, expanding outdoor recreation opportunities and experiential retail growth, we are increasing our opportunity for new small business development and talent attraction.

Historic preservation isn’t about casting buildings in brass but it’s about keeping old places alive, in active use and relevant to the needs of communities today. Rehabilitation of 80+ year old buildings takes a lot of patience, vision and money. As we restore our historic buildings, bringing new life to them in a way that might have been different than originally built, we create a sense of place that encourages creativity in our residents. You could say we are protecting our past for our future residents, by working with already built places that are more sustainable. As we rehab these buildings, we become a more walkable city, with a desire to embrace diversity and inclusion. In the past 10 years, the property values in the Downtown Redevelopment District have grown by 53% compared to less than 10% in the rest of the county.

Creative Placemaking has become a buzz phrase in downtown development in the past few years. It is an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest that builds character and quality of place. The addition of public art, via sculpture, murals, sidewalk art and more have brought a new life to our downtown. This intentionality of making the walk between parking space and storefront more enjoyable also attracts visitors and encourages people to linger and communicate with others.

In the past two years, 27 properties have been sold in the district and 12 buildings are under rehabilitation currently with 19 new businesses opening. This means jobs in construction, income in real estate and small business development. The Johnson City Development Authority has two directives: increase the number of people living, working and engaging in downtown and to increase the commercial property values.

As our City’s goal of recruit and retain becomes a directive for economic development, our downtown is an important component in the plan.

Dianna Cantler is director of development for Johnson city Development Authority.