Northeast summit: A call for frank, focused discussion

Nick Della Volpe
Features columnist

Sept. 29 is almost here. Have you marked your calendar for the Northeast Economic Summit yet?

You are invited. Indeed, you, and the new businesses we hope will choose to serve us, are the reason for the event. We ask you to attend and actively participate. It’s our chance to display the opportunities to successfully open and run a business here. Your responses to the earlier survey questionnaire show you want better retail, restaurants and health care close to home.

What: The summit plan is to bring businesses and residents together to discuss neighborhood wants and for us to learn from our business counterparts what they need to open here, in the northeast quadrant of Knoxville.

The geographic area runs from Broadway/Central north and east to Magnolia and Asheville Highway. Major segments or areas include Magnolia Avenue and the Burlington center, the lower Broadway corridor, Fountain City or upper Broadway, the East Towne mall and broader shopping district surrounding I-640 Exit 8, and also Asheville Highway to the Holston River.N_biz_EconSummitt-2

Where: We will be hosting this economic summit at the O’Connor Senior Center meeting room, 611 Winona St., next door to the Y, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. for informal meet-and-greet time. The basic group presentation starts at 5:30 p.m. Breakout sessions will follow at 6:30 p.m. where specific geographic areas will meet in roundtable format. We will reconvene in assembly for a brief recap from the small-group discussions.

Why: This is free market exposure to budding new businesses before they plop down their hard-earned or borrowed cash. In a recent presentation to the East Towne Business Alliance, Jim Biggs of Knoxville’s Entrepreneur Center said the No. 1 reason small businesses fail is that they don’t sufficiently know what their customers really want. Resultant low sales morph into cash-flow difficulties.

For residents, it is a chance to express your demand-side needs to the supply-side businesses. You get to tell them directly what you want to see and be able to purchase locally. It is a match made in heaven. Add to that the collection of demographic data (population, age spreads, income) from MPC, maps with traffic counts, and KPD crime statistics we have gathered and will share with you at the conference.

Who: We start with you, the resident customers. There are 48,000 people who live in this north and east quadrant, and over 110,000 people within a 15-minute drive of East Towne, for example. That’s a big market. Tens of thousands more live in nearby Union, Grainger and Jefferson counties.

At the meeting, the podium will be shared by MPC reps (Tim Kuhn and Terry Gilhula), Chamber and Entrepreneur Center reps (Doug Minter and Jim Biggs), along with the presidents of the four Business and Professional Associations active in this area (North – Art Cate, East – Alice Allen, East Towne – Justin Sterling, Fountain City – John Fugate). They are familiar with the data and the issues and can help guide us to use our time wisely.

We are also inviting, of course, the Knoxville business community to join us.

We started down this path in the summer with an online consumer survey asking you to tell us where you shop and to identify your retail and health-care wants and needs. Your responses were compiled and will be made available.

What we need is frank, focused discussion. That’s where you come in. Help explore what is needed and what might work in North and East Knoxville. Identify opportunities, obstacles to overcome and possible governmental assistance to facilitate private investment. We aim to be a catalyst for positive growth. Important data from the summit will be posted on the city’s website for future reference.

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