Northeast Economic Summit: Getting to know us

Nick Della Volpe
Features columnist

Have you ever wondered what we might achieve if we better market ourselves and our unique north and east neighborhoods?

We have great people. And great neighborhoods. What would it take for business startups and entrepreneurs and commercial developers to pay closer attention to our community?

Stated differently, must a successful business revolve solely around the relative wealth of its patrons (the Turkey Creek syndrome), or does establishing one’s presence in a community of good people and building strong customer relationships matter more in the longer run?

We have a lot to offer. Over 48,000 people live in the northeast quadrant of the city, according to the 2010 census. If you expand that census snapshot to people who live within a 15-minute drive of the East Towne shopping district (note: business district imports more than just the mall) there are over 110,000 residents.

That same census reports the northeast county is growing by some 30 percent. Moreover, we are bordered by rural counties to the north and east – with people who, of necessity, travel to Knoxville to shop. We can be their outpost.

Even now, before we make our “marketing” pitch, there are nearly 100 businesses located along Washington and Millertown pikes, both inside and outside the mall. We have big boxes like Lowe’s and Home Depot, Sam’s Club and Walmart, Target, as well as Sears, Kohl’s, Belk and JCPenney inside.

There are dozens of smaller, local businesses like restaurants, theaters and convenience and grocery stores. But there is also a need for closer-in neighborhood stores that bring convenience and choice to our smaller, interconnected neighborhoods. Truth is, most of us would like to patronize a healthier downtown Burlington, a rejuvenated lower Broadway or Central Avenue, or a revitalized Magnolia corridor or Washington Pike, to name just a few places.

There is pride of place amidst great neighborhoods and good people all over this northeast marketplace.

The Northeast Economic Summit is building steam toward a late-September or early-October launch. The date is not set yet, but the goal is to get neighborhoods and businesses interacting directly.

We are still doing our homework, of course. Facts matter. We have been gathering data like traffic counts, population size, age and income with help from the Metropolitan Planning Commission and other data from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, business and professional organizations and even the Knoxville Police Department to provide the real skinny on crime – facts, not just the cloud of misperception.

But make no mistake, your neighborhood’s participation is essential. The initial survey results and your direct comments in person will help us express our wants and needs to the business community and help create opportunities for our area.

So, while MPC is compiling demographic info and maps, TDOT posting traffic counts, KPD analyzing actual crime stats and the Knoxville Chamber and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center soliciting the business or “supply-side” participants, we need your help.

You represent the “demand side” in economic terms. You bring the customer base that we are asking businesses to listen to and to find ways to better serve.

Your homework: We are asking neighborhood leaders to each draft a short paper or story line about their own neighborhood (history, people, business wants and needs – in short, what a great place it is to live in and hopefully shop in, and to list follow-up contacts). That “people story” will be shared at the summit. It can help businesses learn more about us, to advance beyond misperceptions or stereotypes and provide a takeaway with follow-up contact information.

Let’s wake up those sleepy businesses. To borrow that ’60s song: “To know, know, know us, is to love, love, love us, and they will … and they will …”

Leave a Reply