UT’s Smart Communities Initiative to Partner with Southeast Tennessee Development District

UT has chosen the Southeast Tennessee Development District to be its 2015–16 Smart Communities Initiative (SCI) partner.

Through SCI, UT pairs faculty and students with Tennessee cities, counties, special districts, and other governmental organizations to engage in real-world problem solving aimed at improving the region’s economy, environment, and social fabric.

The Southeast Tennessee Development District/Chattanooga Area Regional Council of Governments (sedev.org) is a special-purpose unit of government created by executive order and composed of municipal and county governments. The district serves ten counties in the southeast region of the Tennessee River Valley Basin (Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie) and three counties in northeast Georgia (Catoosa, Dade, and Walker.)

UT’s SCI was piloted this year with the City of Cleveland. Faculty and students in twenty courses have been working on thirteen projects ranging from developing a branding campaign for the city to studying the feasibility of a community ice-skating rink to mapping stormwater infrastructure. Some of the projects concluded in the fall; others are continuing this spring.

Going forward, SCI will be a key component of Experience Learning—the university’s new Quality Enhancement Plan, part of the reaccreditation process for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

SETDD provides and shares a staff to effectively plan, promote, and implement programs that result in development and improvement. Its ninety staff members are divided into departments and programs including the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability, Local Workforce Investment Act Area 5, and the Ryan White Consortium. Reporting to a board of directors of elected city and county leaders, they provide planning-related assistance to communities in historic preservation, transportation, housing, tourism, industrial development, Geographic Information System, aging, and workforce development.

Kelly Ellenburg, director of UT’s Office of Service-Learning, which oversees the program, said the partnership will present tremendous opportunities for large and lasting impacts across the region, and will include strong participation from state and local-level policymakers, private-sector partners, and the public.

“We’ll be doing projects on a local level with the cities and counties across the region, as well as a number of regional-scale projects,” Ellenburg said. “Most of the projects will include a heavy research component. We hope to engage a diverse set of faculty to take on these projects through their upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses, and will have lots of opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations.

The SCI will be seeking faculty and courses for numerous projects:

  • Partnering with the Regional Aging Consortium to develop an implementation plan to increase regional preparedness for the impending wave of Baby Boomer retirees.
  • Developing a master plan for a greenway and trail system connecting the greater Chattanooga region.
  • Partnering with the Rural Health Care Services Outreach Program (Bledsoe, Grundy, and Sequatchie Counties) to conduct a needs assessment on health care needs of rural communities in the region.
  • Developing recommendations to improve fiscal soundness of local utility entities across the region.
  • Developing a regional disaster readiness and preparedness initiative.
  • Performing an economic assessment of water resources across the region that will identify threats to the region’s ground and surface water bodies and propose best practices for protecting water resources and minimizing runoff.
  • Developing a concept plan for the South Cumberland Heritage Center (Grundy County).
  • Facilitating a community visioning and economic opportunities plan for the city of Red Bank.
  • Conducting an economic impact assessment of the benefits of Chattanooga’s gigabit internet service and smart grid infrastructure.
  • Preparing a tourism and marketing plan for the city of Ducktown.
  • Developing a sustainable business and operational model for the new farmer’s market in the city of Pikeville.

SETDD Executive Director Beth Jones said the partnership will be a big help for the district.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Smart Communities Initiative, and at the additional capacity and expertise that UT is able to provide through the program,” she said. “We have recognized the need for these projects for a long time, and UT’s efforts on the fronts will enhance the quality of life in our communities in southeast Tennessee.”

Faculty interested in participating should e-mail servicelearning@utk.edu.

For more information about the SCI, see servicelearning.utk.edu/smart-communities-initiative.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)