Ukrainians tour local economic projects

Robert Houk • Oct 25, 2019 at 8:00 AM

A 30-member delegation from Ukraine was in the region Thursday to learn how Johnson City and other local governments are tackling economic and community development issues.

The group — consisting of elected mayors and appointed economic development officials from rural areas of Ukraine — started the day reviewing workforce development programs in Kingsport before taking a walking tour of storm water mitigation and redevelopment efforts in downtown Johnson City.

“We like to see practical examples of what is working in rural communities,” said Yulia Yesmukhanova, deputy chief of party for Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency. “We’ve seen entrepreneurial programs and downtown farmers markets that are applicable.”

Touring The Area

Kara Elser, assistant programs manager of the International City/County Mangers Association, said the delegation also visited the Boone Street Market in Jonesborough on Thursday, and will head to Abingdon, Virginia, today as part of its two-week tour of the United States.

She said the economic and community development fact-finding mission — sponsored by Global Communities Partners for Good — will end in Washington, D.C.

Although Ukraine is making headlines these days in regards to the impeachment hearings going on in Congress, Yesmukhanova said she and her colleagues are focusing their time in the United States on economic development.

“We are trying not to get involved in those issues,” she said Thursday.

Local Control

Yesmukhanova said members of the delegation will take what it has seen in the United States back to their rural  communities in Ukraine. She said the lessons are part of the decentralization reforms going on in Ukraine.

Those reforms seek to move her country away from the Soviet Union-era style of central government to empower local governments with more control over business, economic and community development issues.

“This is a big issue for rural areas,” Yesmukhanova said. “More decisions are going to be made on the ground.”

In addition to seeing seeing how local communities are addressing economic development issues, Yesmukhanova said the group’s lunch stop at One Acre Cafe in Johnson City also gave members ideas on how to address community needs like hunger.

“We liked that model for its social benefits,” she said of the non-profit restaurant that feeds those who can’t afford to pay for their own meals.

Lessons Learned

Dianna Cantler, downtown development director for the Johnson City Development Authority, spoke to the delegation from Ukraine through a translator at Founders Park.

She explained the green space was previously the site of a tobacco warehouse, and the area was prone to flooding before city commissioners voted to levy a storm water management fee to help pay for flood mitigation in the downtown.

Before that work, Cantler said merchants in the area kept sandbags near the doors to their businesses to deal with flooding.

“There was no growth in this district,” she said.

Cantler said flood mitigation has resulted in a revitalization of downtown, with $15 million in public funds and as much as $30 million in private dollars being invested in the district.