I am proud to call Knoxville and East Tennessee home. However, I did not appreciate the opportunities that Knoxville has until I was doing research for the reconstruction of a house in Historic Old North Knoxville. The Souvenir History of Knoxville, published in 1907, and reproduced by Charles Reeves Jr., described Knoxville as an “industrial and commercial center in a great favored region of the South.” It went on to say that growth was inevitable because of abundant natural resources, temperate climate, a favorable geographic location as a trade center with excellent rail and water transportation, a diligent work force, and unmatched scenery for the entire region. The undeniable reality is that everything that was identified in 1907 as a prime contributor to growth is now part of the marketing campaign of every county in East Tennessee.
Unfortunately, Knoxville lost its direction during and after the depression of the 1930’s. Truthfully it has taken almost seventy years for the region to regain the momentum it had at the turn of the Twentieth century. It is easy to look to other cities, other regions of the country, and “expert consultants” from somewhere else to help guide what we should become. I prefer to look to our own history and then pursue the enormous human talent that is now in East Tennessee.
An example of the kind of leadership that Knoxville had, and I believe the leaders are emulating today, is that of Peter Kern, the founder of Kern’s Bakery. Mr. Kern was an immigrant from Germany who made Knoxville his home after the Civil War. He was not trained as a baker but built one of the most prosperous baking companies in the South. He was not a politician but became the mayor. He accepted and encouraged change as well as competition for both his business and Knoxville. He firmly believed that his business would need to change because it would grow as Knoxville grew. To maintain its status as a leader, he felt that his business must innovate to stay ahead of the competition. The “Links in the Chain of a Successful Career” that surround this page are directly from Mr. Kern’s article in the Souvenir History of Knoxville, and exemplify values that are equally important today.
My personal challenge is to be doing the projects that others are thinking about doing. Although each project must stand on its own merits, the criteria for any new project is that it must move my overall business forward and create profits as summarized by Edward Deming: “Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.”