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Posted on: Friday - Feb 5, 2016

Those of us in the Upper Cumberland hit the ground running at the start of the new year. Although it’s only February, 2016 has a lot of great things on the horizon for the region.

January marked the 6th Annual REDI for Action Conference on the campus of Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. The conference began in 2010 as an effort to bring together elected officials, business and community leaders, students and stakeholders from the Upper Cumberland to share best practices and learn about economic development programs and resources.

More than 150 people were in attendance for a wide variety of breakout sessions and keynote address by TNECD Assistant Commissioner Amy New. Also representing TNECD’s Rural Development team were Main Street Program Director Nancy Williams, ThreeStar Director Jody Sliger and Special Projects Director Amanda Martin.

The event is spearheaded by TTU and TNECD along with many other participating state departments and agencies – Tennessee Departments of Tourist Development and Labor and Workforce Development, Upper Cumberland Development District, TVA, Municipal Technical Assistance Service, County Technical Assistance Service, Tennessee Small Business Development Center, USDA-Rural Development, The Biz Foundry and the Cumberland Business Incubator.

On the business development front, the management team at CoLinx hosted elected officials and stakeholders on a tour of its 800,000 square foot facility in Crossville/Cumberland County. CoLinx recently announced an expansion resulting in the creation of 150 new jobs in the Upper Cumberland.

Since opening its doors 15 years ago, the company has seen its business grow steadily and has completed multiple expansions in cooperation with TNECD, city and county governments. Touting the company’s top priority – a safe and healthy workplace for its 700 employees – CoLinx offers free non-emergency healthcare and prescriptions through its CareHere clinic to employees and their families, along with traditional medical insurance. Fresh fruit and other nutritious snacks are consistently provided in break rooms. Employees are issued tablets that aid them in work activities while also allowing them to stay in touch with their families electronically throughout the day.

In White County, Jackson Kayak has announced its plans to create 250 new jobs and invest $6.5 million to expand production of recreational whitewater and fishing kayaks and to manufacture Orion coolers, a high-end line of cooler products.

In addition to upgrading its existing facility where they currently employ over 100 craftsmen and administrative staff, the company has finalized its purchase of the Philips Lighting facility in Sparta. This factory closed in March 2012, resulting in a layoff of 275 employees, and the building had been vacant ever since. The 300,000 square footbuilding was set to be sold for salvage, but by working with TNECD, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Upper Cumberland Development District, Jackson Kayak was able to enter into an EPA Brownfield Agreement, allowing them to renovate the facility for their use without assuming any of Philips’ liability. They are ahead of schedule with the renovations of the Philips building and are currently operating production lines in both facilities.

Jackson Kayak has been building its Tennessee brand since 2004, shipping kayaks to hundreds of domestic and international dealers. Visitors from all over the world attend exhibition and competitive kayaking events at nearby Rock Island. The company’s impact on this rural Tier Three, distressed community is truly difficult to measure.

Rebecca Smith leads TNECD’s efforts in the Upper Cumberland region. A native to the area, Rebecca has been with the department for five years. Along with Business Development Consultant Jon Ward, she assists newly located and expanding businesses and supports community and rural development strategies in 14 counties.