Lee helps celebrate opening of Sneedville call center

Anthony Royer, president of Allied Dispatch Solutions, helps Gov. Bill Lee take a roadside assistance call during the grand opening for Allied’s new call center in Sneedville. Also helping Lee is employee Deana Collins.

It was a day of celebration for Hancock County Wednesday afternoon as Allied Dispatch Solutions held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its call center on Back Valley Road.

Gov. Bill Lee was there to help cut the ribbon on the new facility.

“Thank you, Allied, for investing in this community,” Lee said. “This project started before I came along. All of the work, County Mayor (Thomas Harrison) you put into it, the culmination of the state departments of economic and community development, labor and workforce and mental health, substance abuse services. There were a combination of people who came together to make this happen. Most of that planning came before I came here.

“I celebrate with this community this company because what’s happening right here is something that I think is everything right with what we need to be doing going forward. I have a strong belief that what happens in rural Tennessee matters to every single Tennessean,” Lee said.

Lee noted that he grew up in rural Tennessee in the agriculture industry, in a family business and knew that if he had the opportunity to become governor, that he would remind everyone how important rural communities are in Tennessee.

“One of the biggest privileges I’ve had as governor is signing Executive Order No. 1 in the Bill Lee administration that called for a statement of accounting for every department in state government to provide me with a statement of impact of how all 23 departments impact rural Tennessee. Then, six months later, to give me a strategic plan on how they were going to possibly impact rural Tennessee,” Lee said. “What’s happing right here is exactly what needs to be happening across Tennessee. It’s bringing meaningful jobs to a rural community that needs (them) and changes people’s lives.”

Lee recalled that when he first drove his recreational vehicle into Hancock County as a candidate for governor, there were only four people to show up to greet him.

“I wake up every day in my business thinking how I’m going to impact my employees’ lives for good,” he said. “Now I have an incredible honor that I can use my life and influence the departments of the state and work together with the legislature to make life better for every single Tennessean. When you bring jobs into a rural community like this, you make life better for people.”

Harrison detailed the story behind the location of the call center to Hancock County.

“In 2010, as I was running for this job, the people were talking to me about the two most important things, the lack of jobs and things to do for our kids,” Harrison said. “In fall of 2010, I’d been in office for two months and the last manufacturing jobs had shut down. They brought me the keys to the building. Other than county government, those were the only jobs that was here. That made for a long day.”

Harrison contacted the First Tennessee Development District for assistance.

“If you don’t know your development district, you need to get to know them,” Harrison said. “Ken Ray and Bill Forrester directed me in who we needed to talk to. It took us a little bit to come up with a plan. We met several times in Tennessee Towers in Nashville and at the Governor’s Conference. After we had a meeting for something else upstairs, Gov. (Bill) Haslam and Allen Borden (deputy commissioner of business, community and rural development) were standing in an elevator downstairs.”

Borden suggested that Hancock County could be the location of a call center.

“A call center wouldn’t be unheard of in your area,” Borden told Harrison. “It might be something to think about.”

Harrison and Jesse Royston met with Campbell and Associates of Knoxville, the engineering firm that worked on projects in the past. Plans were put together over that spring on new construction of a building for a call center, or renovation of an existing building.

“We didn’t have an appointment or a plan, but that fall at the Governor’s Conference, I ran into Borden in the hallway downstairs again and told him I had a plan. The conference was going on and the agenda was already slated for two days. I asked if there would be any chance we could get some time with the governor, maybe someone from ECD together while we’re here in Nashville and maybe pitch an idea,” Harrison said.

“Borden said to give him a few minutes. In 45 minutes, he said that if you can get everyone here at 4 p.m., we’ll meet upstairs. This is where we pitched our idea. This is where all of this came from,” Harrison said.

Three and a half to four years later, the project came to fruition.

“We were prepared (for financing) with Joe Woody of Rural Development to see what grants were available and were going to borrow the rest,” Harrison said. “Economic and Community Development pulled a fast one on me. They came up with some outside the box thinking and opportunities for grants through CBDG that normally aren’t used for buildings through the Appalachian Regional Commission and came up with after we finished the building 95 to 96 percent financing on the building, which is unheard of.”

Harrison thanked Allied Dispatch Solutions and its employees, Borden, Lynn Tully of ECD, Jamie Stitt, Logan McCoy, Don Hurst, Ken Rea, Bill Forrester, Lance Lowry, Amanda Martin, Brooksie Carlton, Amy New, Paul Vandermeer, Ken Thomas of the ARC, Joe Woody of Rural Development, Bob Roth, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development for the training dollars.

Finally, Harrison thanked Lee for signing the order for the 15 economically distressed counties in Tennessee that Hancock is part of.

“Your vision and your order signing off for the 15 distressed counties in Tennessee speaks volumes for his vision for Hancock County. I think this is a large shot of capital for Hancock County and a great turn of events and lots of positives for our county. This is only the beginning.”

Tim Thompson, co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, spoke of the $500,000 grant given to this project.

“This is a great opportunity for us to see ARC’s investments in action, which is the favorite part of my job,” Thompson said. “It gives me a chance to get out of Washington, D.C. and connect face to face with people who are doing the real work, creating opportunities for the region. Leadership realizes that lack of funding is not an obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle. You all came up with an idea and you worked to find the funding. I commend you for that collective leadership.”

Thompson thanked Lee for the focus on East Tennessee and Appalachia.

“From that first executive order you signed, you have made sure to keep rural Tennessee in mind,” Thompson said. “Appalachia is primarily rural. You made clear your commitment to the Appalachia part of this state. Gov. Lee is a member of the ARC, a federal-state partnership. His has been an important voice of the 12 governors, along with myself, who make up the commission. Brooksie Carlton, the governor’s alternate to the ARC, is a model of effectiveness and she gives great service to her state.”

Scott Levetorre, Chairman, Allied Dispatch, is excited for Allied Dispatch Solutions to be in Sneedville.

“Isn’t it amazing to see something go from nothing to something like this,” Levetorre said. “We want to thank each and every one of you who had confidence to work on such a great initiative. I also must thank Wayne Aberdeen and Steve Jones, we couldn’t have done it without you guys. We plan on many, many years of growth and expansion in this community and we really appreciate that you supported us. We are dumbfounded and excited on how quickly this was able to be put together. It wasn’t a dream, it’s reality. We did it.”

Anthony Royer, president of Allied Dispatch Solutions has been a long time customer of the state.

“About 300 people are employed in Johnson City and they have been good citizens and great employees for our state,” Royer said.

Gov. Lee took a call from AT&T roadside assistance, one of the accounts that Allied Dispatch Solutions services.