Council candidates share their economic priorities

Part two of a four-part series

By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ

COOKEVILLE – Economic development is often the life blood of any city, while tourism is a close second. That’s why the UCBJ asked candidates in the upcoming Cookeville City Council election about the role they believe the city should play in these key areas. Their key positions are shared below in this exclusive story, which is the second part of our four-part City Council series.

All the candidates believe that the city plays a key role in economic development, with unanimous support for investing tax dollars on economic development and industry recruitment. 

However, the candidates had very different opinions on what the number one priority for economic development success looks like — with candidate Brian Jones refusing to even name a priority.

Current council members Mark Miller and Eric Walker shared similar ideas. Miller feels the number one priority is ensuring that Tennessee Tech, CRMC and Averitt can continue to grow. Walker, on the other hand, felt that enhancement and development of Cookeville’s downtown should be put at the top of the list.

Walker explained: “Cookeville’s downtown is home to TTU, CRMC and is host to small local businesses that make up most of our workforce. Our downtown area is the top economic driver for our community. Enhancement of our downtown will not only have a high impact on our region’s top employers, but it will also drive new business growth and income into our community.”

For council member Laurin Wheaton and candidates Jeremy Bowman and Jordan Iwanyszyn, the key priority was supporting local businesses.

“Small business is the number one driver of job growth,” Iwanyszyn stated. “It’s vitally important that we support our community’s small businesses.”

Wheaton added that the city needs to continue to “cultivate professional relationships by meeting the needs of current businesses, as well as actively recruiting new industries that want to invest in Cookeville.”

Lynda Marie Loftis-Webb and Chad Gilbert both felt that deliberate infrastructure improvements would remove barriers and bring success.

“We have physical needs and service needs,” Gilbert stated. “We have got great department heads, and we need to continue to follow their lead and give them the support that allow deliberate infrastructure improvements – whether that be roads, water, sewer or emergency services. We need to keep a focus on where our growth is dictating those needs.” 

Luke Eldridge feels the number one priority is workforce development. He explained: “One focus needs to be on those in high school, college, trade schools, TCAT, etc. and preparing them for the workforce. We need to work on breaking the poverty mindset that ‘the government will take care of me.’ Because without the workforce there is no economic development. We need to focus on how we keep our college students in town rather than leaving for a job.”

For Ali Bagci, it is important that a municipality inspire investment into its community. “It is imperative we have an environment which promotes success instead of penalizing it,” he said.

As for Dee Prince, he feels that communication about the strategic planning center between “local leadership and the citizens” should be the number one priority.

All candidates believe that it is important the city have a pro-growth mindset toward economic development.

Supporting tourism is a more divisive issue among the candidates. Seven candidates – Bagci, Bowman, Iwanyszyn, Jones, Miller, Loftis-Webb and Wheaton – were in favor of only raising hotel-motel taxes to support marketing our community to outside visitors. Neither Walker nor Eldridge felt the city should raise taxes to support tourism. 

Gilbert said that he was open to the discussion of raising both Hotel-Motel taxes and Property taxes to support tourism; however, he is truly hesitant to raise any taxes without an objective way to measure the payback or return to the taxpayer.

Next week, the candidates will answer questions from the public on these topics at the Cookeville Chamber in a special candidate forum on Tuesday, June 28. It is free for Chamber members and $10 for nonmembers. The forum, which is sponsored by UCBJ, will last from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Two more articles will follow this one, as we delve into the candidates’ positions on CRMC and issues facing the city.

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