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Haslam addresses chamber
Knoxville mayor keynote speaker at Farragut West Knox breakfast at Fox Den Country Club

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam answers a question at the podium.- Dan Barile/farragutpress
A lot of people at the Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce breakfast speaker series Tuesday morning may have been wondering why newly-elected Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam wanted to be the guest speaker.

Farragut isn’t within the city’s boundaries.

“That is a really easy one only for me,” Haslam said. “If we’re going to succeed as a region, we’re going to have to cooperate better.”

“In the business that I came from before I was here, we operated all over the country. And there was a difference when you went into an area, when that area works together and when they don’t. If we’re going to succeed, we are going to succeed as a region. The more we can cooperate, the better,” the former Pilot Corp. president said.

Haslam added that the city, county and the town of Farragut’s interests might be different in the short term, but similar in the long term.

“Our interests aren’t always the same. (County Mayor) Mike (Ragsdale) and I have formed a great working relationship, but there are times that he has to represent the county and I have the represent the city and our interests are a little bit different,” he said. “But, if we can get beyond that, long term our interests are the same. And it’s the same thing with (Farragut Mayor) Eddy (Ford), if we can have that attitude than we really will succeed.”

Another issue Haslam addressed was the importance of economic development in Knoxville.

“If you’re running a government you realize pretty soon that you have to match your revenues to your expenses,” he said. “In our business the pure employee costs go up about 5 to 6 percent of the budget every year. If our revenues stay the same then you have a problem.”

There are three ways, Haslam said, to make revenues go up — increase taxes, annex or new development.

“Now that third option is always the best,” he said. “That’s the right way for cities to grow, keep you revenues in line with your expenses … and make the community better.”

Haslam said we have the tools to lure companies to the area, such as the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Oak Ridge, but to bring them here “we need economic cooperation.”

“It’s incredibly important and not easily done,” he said. “We want to work together. Working through those hard spots is what defines success.”

The city mayor said he would like to focus on bringing businesses with low infrastructure costs, low pollution and ones that would provide high paying jobs.

“I have in my pocket every morning an index card of companies that I would like see come to Knoxville or I would like to see grow their business here,” he said.

Although he did not hint what type of companies the city may be entertaining, he said his administration would work with any potential business.

“Whoever we can get in our door, we’ll work on,” he said.

Haslam also addressed losing Universe Knoxville, the Worsham-Watkins International project, once eyed for the vacant downtown State Street property, to Sevierville.

The public/private development calls for a new convention center, hotel, Planetarium and Bass Pro Shop along Interstate 40 at exit 407.

“There’s no question that the whole Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg area has taken off on tourism. They are building on their strength, which is a great thing to do,” he said. “I really don’t know if that would have changed our tourism dollar, but I do think the thing that we have to build on are the things that we are naturally strong at in this area, and use that as something that will attract people. If we can build the kind of city we want here, that in itself I think will become a tourist attraction. The people will love having a downtown that’s attractive. People coming for UT sporting events will see a reason to stay here longer.”

He added that Knoxville could even see some benefit from Sevierville strengthening its tourism muscle.

“I don’t think that is necessarily bad thing,” he said. “I think we get some spin-off benefit from that as well.”

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