Jimmy Hawkins

MDT-01172019-o-othervoice-jimmyhawkinsmug

It looks like 2019 will be an exciting time for the construction industry in Blount County. Commercial and residential development patterns are changing, bringing a renewed focus on the downtowns and urban centers of our cities.

Across the country, metro areas are thriving as primary-sector employers invest in new headquarters, manufacturing facilities and back-office operations. Quality-of-life issues are important to recruitment as companies and workers become more selective in their choices. It’s become clear that the skilled, educated workers that companies need to recruit prefer the conveniences of traditional urban living.

Focus on urban centers

To be successful as a community, Blount County has to focus on the quality of life of its urban centers. In 2019, look for increased interest in projects to redefine the core of our cities.

As a longtime contractor and Blount County resident, development issues are very close to my heart. So, I turned to Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, for insight on local growth priorities. He said community leaders are beginning to shift focus to encourage more urban development in Alcoa and Maryville.

“It truly is a return to your urban centers,” Daniels said. “The new generations of the workforce — the millennials and the generation behind them — are very conscious of the resurgence of urban areas. For us to be successful, we need to have a major focus on more development downtown.”

In Alcoa, the ambitious Springbrook Farms project is underway. Its goal: to create a new town center for the city from scratch on the former Alcoa Inc. West Plant property, combining retail and commercial development with residential opportunities and a focus on green space.

Also expect a focus on bringing more residential living opportunities to downtown Maryville, which will help encourage commercial opportunities in the area. Economic development leaders envision larger-scale residential such as loft apartments or condominiums projects — not single-family homes — combined with retail development in a mixed-use setting.

Development trends

With this interest in downtown development also comes a respect for the past and a desire to maintain the historic character of the areas. Developers are interested in the commercial possibilities of renovating older structures. The mix of old and new also appeals to the skilled workforce that Blount County is competing for. This brings opportunities for skilled contractors who specialize in historic preservation and renovation.

This year will see more efforts to bring retail and commercial development within the cities. Blount County is an underserved commercial market. Disposable income continues to rise, and, as it does, consumers are simply not as willing to make the drive to Knoxville to shop as they used to be. They want to shop local, which is great for local small businesses.

To continue growing as a community, Blount County must accommodate the needs and preferences of today’s skilled workforce. Revitalizing urban areas and creating quality development help our county to compete for the job growth of tomorrow.

Jimmy Hawkins is president of a Maryville-based contractor that serves the greater Knoxville area.

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