The Highlands Economic Partnership’s phase four has reached over $2 million in pledges from local partners on its next five-year phase.
That’s more than 71 percent of the overall $2.85 million goal in place before Wednesday’s public launch.
“It’s our time,” Highlands Chamber President/CEO George Halford said. “We have a wonderful opportunity ahead.”
The partnership brings together government and the private sector to promote growth and opportunities across Jackson, Overton, Putnam and White Counties. In its first three phases, the partnership has focused on increasing workforce skills, building business parks, targeting new industries and K-12 student preparation.
“We begin our new effort on the heels of unprecedented success in phase three, Highlands Economic Partnership Phase Four Co-Char Jonathan West said. “We know we cannot rest on the success of the past. Our communities, our region, and future generations, they depend on us to ensure that we are creating an environment that we can be successful today, but also be successful in the future.”
The number one goal in the next phase will be a focus on creating 2,000 new and quality jobs across the region. Highlands Vice President of Development And Communications Zach Buckner said the initiative defines quality jobs as those with incomes of $42,500 and up.
Phase four will focus on jobs in IT, advanced manufacturing, and health care.
Roughly 100 business investors in the program heard from leadership during breakfast Wednesday at the Salt Box Inn. local business leaders are key in this phase as the plan shifts more of the cost burden to the private sector. Federal grant money has decreased and local governments wanted to see more private investment in the program.
Bucker noted several investors have more than quadrupled their commitment.
Convergent Nonprofit Solutions has served as a consultant on the project. Principal Dave Popen told the group that it normally takes about 10-15 years for long-term partnerships like the Highlands Initiative to really see results. Popen said just when you stand ready to make progress, these types of partnerships can fall apart.
“This was a critical time,” Popen said. “What we’ve seen is phenomenal progress. We do a lot of this work across the country. I would put you top five percentile nationally. Certainly your workforce development plan is a model.”
White County Executive Denny Wayne Robinson said the October announcement that Hormann would build a plant in the Highlands represents the kind of working together without ego that the region needs. Robinson said the people of the region sold Hormann on locating here.
“This works,” Robinson said. “The old saying the teamwork makes the dream work.”