Carter County Tomorrow holds its last meeting

John Thompson • Updated Nov 13, 2019 at 9:47 PM

ELIZABETHTON — On Wednesday the Carter County Tomorrow economic development organization held its last meeting. The organization will hold its last payday for its employees on Nov. 22 and the board will complete the transition of its paperwork to the Carter County government in December.

The main mission of Carter County Tomorrow was to bring new business and industry into the county. The lack of new businesses was a frustration for the county, just as it was for the Elizabethton/Carter County Economic and Community Development Commission, in which Haynes Elliott was the director.

Former Elizabethton mayor Sam LaPorte presided over the last meeting. He expressed satisfaction that all the bills have been paid and the organization has already transferred its contracts and other important documents to the county.

Board member Dale Fair, a former county mayor, expressed sadness that the inability to reach an agreement with some local leaders led to the ultimate end of the organization.

Fair, president and chief executive officer of Bank of Tennessee, said Carter County Tomorrow was a bit ahead of its time in being an umbrella organization for smaller entities that were vital to local government. When Carter County Tomorrow was created, it was set up to provide leadership not only for the Economic Development Commission, but also for the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Council.

Fair said he knows how effective an umbrella organization can be. When he served as the director of the East Tennessee Human Resources Agency he presided over many small organizations that provided extremely vital services, such as NETrans, home-delivered meals to senior citizens, children’s nutrition and many other services.

“It would be too costly for eight small organizations to each have a director and a bookkeeper, but one umbrella organization could provide those services for all of them,” Fair said.

Carter County Tomorrow was the baby of the late David Bautista, who was the public defender for the First Judicial District. He had seen a similar umbrella-style partnership in Greene County and noticed that county was about the same size as Carter County, but seem to have a lot more industrial jobs. He first proposed Carter County Tomorrow to the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce around 2002.

It took several years to get the Chamber, the Elizabethton City Council and the Carter County Commission all on board, but in 2006 the city and county passed ordinances and resolutions creating Carter County Tomorrow.

The late Duncan Street was the first chairman of Carter County Tomorrow’s board of directors. The charter members were Bautista, Carol Chase, Fair, LaPorte, Pat Holsclaw, Larry Rose, Charles Stahl, and Keith Young.

The organization initially had strong support in both city and county governments, but that support would wane in later years.

The relationship with the county became difficult during the time Leon Humphrey was county mayor. Part of the dispute was over the Workforce Development Complex, a county-owned building in the Watauga Industrial Park that was placed under the care of Carter County Tomorrow when it was originally set up.

The complex consisted of two large buildings that had been the Great Lakes Research Center. When that company ceased operations, the two buildings were sold to the county. Later, the buildings were placed under Carter County Tomorrow with proceeds from rental of the property going to fund its operations.

Among the tenants were a motel call center, a Siemens turbine maintenance facility, and currently, the Elizabethton campus of Northeast State Community College.

The dispute over control of the complex eventually led to a lawsuit by Carter County against Carter County Tomorrow. The suit was eventually settled out of court with Carter County Tomorrow agreeing to half the time of its lease of the building from 12 years to six years. The relationship with the city and county has improved since that time, even as the city and county passed legislation creating Carter County Tomorrow’s replacement — the Carter County Joint Economic and Community Development Board.