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Brain Gain – Kingsport Grooms Next Generation of Community Leaders

Young professionals find what they need in Kingsport

By Laura Hill on April 5, 2017

Kingsport TN
Credit: Sweet Snaps by Tara Hodges

Young professionals – that highly sought-after group of employees and entrepreneurs – are taking a look at Kingsport. And they like what they see.

Thanks to steady growth, job availability and an evolving tech presence, the city is emerging as a great place for young people to build their careers and put down roots. And that’s a major advantage when it comes to economic development and nurturing future leadership for the community.

“The city is always competing for talent that could go basically anywhere in the nation,” says Emma Clark, associate director with the Downtown Kingsport Association. “The people we end up winning are those that place a high value on quality of quality of life, and our rich outdoor opportunities.” 

Who are Kingsport’s top employers?

Realtor Seth Jervis agrees:

“What we have to offer that major metros don’t is [a low] cost of living, first of all. Second, one of the driving recruitment initiatives for millennials and young professionals is outdoor recreation. We have hiking, biking, water sports, camping and more here – something you’re not going to get in Charlotte or Nashville or Atlanta. The great thing about Kingsport is we have everything you need right here and everything you want within a day’s drive.”

Jervis is so committed to building and supporting the community’s young professionals that four years ago he co-founded an organization to help recruit and support young talent. PEAK, or Professionals Engaged in Advancing Kingsport, is already one of the largest groups of its kind in the state.

A New Civic Organization

“Kingsport had done a good job with recruiting retirees over the years, but we really didn’t have anything for young people,” Jervis says. “We decided to form PEAK to basically do what groups like Kiwanis and Rotary do, but stripped down and without the time commitment.”

The group focuses on five areas: social engagement, civic volunteerism, professional development, regional networking and talent recognition. Its stated mission is “to attract, develop and retain Kingsport’s young professionals.”

Learn about Kingsport’s diverse economy

PEAK puts together four or five events each year that serve as a regional showcase by bringing people together to network. Volunteerism has been strong as well. Members participate in Habitat for Humanity, help out at the Boys and Girls Club, plant flowers at charity organizations and built a new dog park for the community.

Professional development events feature speakers, leaders from local businesses, and programs that stress the value of young professionals in the workforce and their roles as future leaders. The organization also recognizes the achievements of local young professionals and encourage their further involvement in PEAK.

The group rapidly became the largest young professionals group east of Nashville, often drawing 300 to events and enlisting scores of members in volunteer work in the community.

Encouraging Entrepreneurship

While the city and PEAK have been highly successful in supporting young professionals, there have been challenges, Jervis says.

“We’re primarily a manufacturing town, but Sullivan County economic development has been working hard to build a more diverse economy, and in the last year we’ve really made strides,” he says. “Moreso than anything, I would like to see more local entrepreneurs. That’s something young professionals are really interested in. We’re not a big-box generation. We like to see the local brewery, the local restaurants and locally owned stores. We like to see more organic growth and independent businesses. We’ve kind of come full circle, back to our grandparents’ generation.”

Looking ahead a few years, both Jervis and Clark predict a bright future for Kingsport.

“It will be interesting to see what this community looks like 15 years from now,” Clark says. “We’re a kind of undiscovered opportunity right now. But if we continue to make decisions that set the table for development and entrepreneurship, the sky is the limit for this place. It’s a good time to be here.”

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