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By JENNIFER RAYMOND
The Kingston Community Center was packed Wednesday for a visit from Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Bredesen was in Roane County to announce grants awarded to Oliver Springs, Roane County and Rockwood and also to discuss ideas for economic growth, specifically in rural parts of Tennessee.
Roane County and Rockwood received Community Development Block Grants for $500,000 each.
Roane County will be using the money for a water line between Roane and McMinn counties.
Rockwood will be using its grant to help with improvements to the Rockwood sewer system.
“These are the kinds of projects that aren’t necessarily as visible, not quite as sexy sometimes as some of these other kinds of things you do,” Bre-desen said. “But in the heart of any successful community is having a healthy infrastructure. You can’t really grow as a community unless you’re building on a solid foundation.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, federal money is given to communities with a population less than 50,000 for the purpose of attracting new or expanding companies.
The grants are administered for economic development like industrial infrastructure or for community development like water facilities or house re-habilitation.
Oliver Springs was awarded a Transportation Enhancement Grant for $28,498 to be used to help with the Train Depot improvement project. The grant funds will be used to install a sprinkler system in the historic Train Depot, which is in the heart of the city and is a historical landmark, Brede-sen said.
According to Bredesen, the cities will be receiving the money as soon as the necessary process is completed by the government.
He added that these types of grants are very competitive and the state receives many more applications than money available.
Bredesen also came to Roane County to talk about strategies to increase economic development.
“We have had a lot of economic growth in the state,” Bredesen said. “The numbers have been good overall, but it is not well distributed. There are three or four counties that are getting the bulk.”
He added that he is trying to focus on ways to make every county in the state as successful as possible, including smaller communities.
“This governor has understood the urban problems as well as the rural problems,” state Sen. Tommy Kilby of Wartburg said. “And it’s a testimony to his commitment to the betterment of our state to be in the 12th District announcing these grants, which help build our infrastructure and give us a firm foundation for continued growth and economic prosperity.”
Bredesen brought with him Matthew Kisber, the state’s economic and community development commissioner, and Reagan Farr, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
They all met with local officials involved in the Plateau Partnership Park project, an industrial development effort that involves a partnership of Roane, Cumberland and Morgan counties.
The group discussed ideas to help advance the project.
“We want to be ready,” Morgan County Executive Becky Ruppe said.
The park includes about 1,100 acres of prime industrial land that lies in Cumberland and Morgan counties and offers rail, interstate and the con-venience of the Rockwood Municipal Airport.
“You can fly into the airport if you are a corporate business, and then you are two minutes away from your job,” Ruppe said.
Bredesen and Kisber seemed to be impressed at the ability of all three counties to work together.
“This is the kind of regionalism we like to hear about,” Kisber said.
Roane County Exectuive Mike Farmer said, “There’s not one square inch of Roane County property, and that’s how much we believe in this project.”
Both Kisber and Bredesen agreed that the state would help as much as possible, including with marketing.
When Bredesen asked what the state can do or give to the project, Ruppe quickly responded with “money.”
“Do you have any more of those big checks?” Ruppe joked.
Bredesen called the park a great example of community partnership.
“I think it’s going to be a boom to industrial business here,” Bredesen said later in an interview.
An open discussion was also held on economic development.
Kisber noted that many changes were put in place to help with job creation and retention. He also spoke of taxes and incentives for new and ex-panding businesses.
“One in particular, I think, that embodies the governor’s charge to recognize that the state is not one whole state, but a number of regional econo-mies, is our emerging industry tax credit,” Kisber said.
It allows officials to target emerging opportunities, and those could be different from county to county and region to region, he said.
The focus can be on the forces that make a difference in the community, Kisber added.
Education and the need to prepare students for the work force was also discussed.
“I have spent more time on education than any other single subject since I have been governor, and I really actually see that as the flip side of the coin of economic development,” Bredesen said.
“My concern is, we have got substantially fewer college graduates than even the average in the country, and we are producing them at a lower rate than the average in this country.”
Bredesen stressed the need for communities to invest in their schools.
A main point that Bredesen stressed throughout the day was the need for communities to work together at the local and state level to further economic development and education.