Kingsport's Higher Education Initiative Wins Innovations Award

September 15, 2009
Kingsport's Higher Education Initiative Wins Innovations Award

Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center Recognizes Efforts to Revitalize Community through Education

Cambridge, Mass. – The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University today announced the Higher Education Initiative of Kingsport, Tennessee, as a 2009 Innovations in American Government Award winner. Formerly a rustbelt city with an overreliance on heavy manufacturing, Kingsport’s growing aging population, shrinking younger workforce, and dropping education levels of area residents threatened to further depress the region’s standard of living. In order to reverse this impending economic crisis, Kingsport launched a successful ‘Educate and Grow’ campaign to attract new business investment to the region by upgrading the quality of its workforce.

Started in 2001, the program is one of six government initiatives honored at yesterday’s awards reception in Washington, D.C. and will receive a grant towards sharing its innovation with other jurisdictions around the country. The event concluded with the premier of 2009 Visionaries, a PBS-produced documentary highlighting this year’s Innovations winners.

Under the Educate and Grow plan, city of Kingsport officials collaborated with the Sullivan County school board to develop and finance a host of new programs to enhance academic outcomes of Kingsport students and build a more qualified workforce.

      • K-14: A first in the nation, the city’s K-14 program extends public high school by an optional two years to provide students with additional training and technical skills requested by local employers.
      • Dual Enrollment: Through established partnerships with the area’s local colleges, high school students now have the opportunity to take college-level classes and receive both college and high school credit for their work.
      • Scholarships: Any Kingsport high school graduate is eligible for a four-semester scholarship at the city’s Northeast State Technical Community College. Such funding allows students to earn a two-year associate’s degree or transfer credits towards a four-year bachelor’s degree.
      • Curriculum: Officials have transformed public school curricula and developed new areas of medical and technical study at the secondary and college level that better reflect the growing number of industries in the region along with attracting new industries.

New Infrastructure

Designed to capitalize on the city’s 53 percent daily commuter population increase, Kingsport underwent a series of infrastructure enhancements, building an “academic village” in close proximity to the city’s business center. Officials project the new building plans will increase the downtown student population to 2,500 over the next few years.

      • Regional Center for Applied Technology (RCAT): Launched in 2002 as a branch of Northeast State Community College, RCAT offers high school graduates and continuing education students courses in computer science and information technology; office administration; business management; and on-demand industry-specific job training.
      • Regional Center for Health Professionals: In addition to enhancing the technology skills of Kingsport’s labor force, the city opened the Regional Center for Health Professionals in 2008 to draw new health care opportunities to the region. Students can earn two-year degrees in medical technology and nursing.
      • Kingsport Center for Higher Education: Opened this August, the Center offer courses towards associate up to doctoral degrees through a unique partnership with five local colleges and universities.
      • Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing: This public-private partnership between the State of Tennessee, Northeast State, and two of Kingsport’s largest manufacturers, Eastman Chemical and Domtar Paper Mill, will offer certifications and associate of applied science programs in electrical, fabrication, and chemical process technologies.
      • Automotive Technology Center: A fifth facility, scheduled to open in the fall of 2010, will be dedicated to state-of-the-art automotive technology training programs.

Kingsport’s Educate and Grow initiative cites much success in bringing new industry to the region and improving the skills of its workforce.

      • Industry Diversification: Formerly dependent solely on the manufacturing industry, the greater Kingsport region now reports a more diversified economy including new jobs in healthcare (8,000), hospitality (5,000), construction (3,900), professional services (2,500), and information technology (600).
      • Sales Tax Revenues: Sales tax revenues have increased by nearly $950,000 since 2005, and property values are increasing.
      • Investment: The city cites an increase of $370 million in new construction since 2006 including 12 new restaurants and regional education buildings.
      • Population: Families are returning to the area and educational levels are increasing. 2,700 families have moved to Kingsport over the last two years, and the city is experiencing an increase in young adults aged 20-24. The number of residents earning college degrees has increased by 2 percent.

“Kingsport is fortunate to have private citizens, community organizations, and elected officials who understand that the only limitation on a community’s economic potential is the quality of the local workforce,” Kingsport City Manager John Campbell said. “Access to higher education not only unlocks a community’s economic potential in the short term, but ensures society’s continuing success in future generations.”

“Instead of traditional tax incentives, Kingsport has revitalized its economy by making its workforce more competitive,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School. “They recognized that today’s high school diploma does not adequately prepare students for the challenges of the global economy. Cities across the country can learn from Kingsport’s work in revamping curricula, building new infrastructure, and developing creative partnerships.”

For more information:
Morris Baker
City of Kingsport

Kate Hoagland
Ash Center

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit