University Economic Development Association


Asset Based Planning in Rural Tennessee Counties

Award Category: Place
Project Site: Asset Based Planning
Submitted By: University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services
Contact: Beth Phillips , 865.974.0268


In early 2016, the UT Center for Industrial Services (UTCIS) and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development began discussing how to implement an Asset Based Planning Program in 23 rural, distressed counties located across the state. The purpose of the program was to help participating counties identify 2-3 economic development projects  that build on community assets and could be implemented within a twelve-month period.

To help counties identify projects, UTCIS developed and conducted asset based planning meetings in 23 communities over a three-month period. Each meeting involved up to 40 community representatives. The program has several unique factors, including: (1) development of a network of university agencies and development districts that provide the reach, capacity, and reputation to quickly ramp up and deliver a statewide program; (2) ongoing technical assistance effort involving TNECD, Development Districts and UTCIS to assist counties throughout the process, revisit existing plans, update goals, and evaluate results; (3) close integration with other regional and state funding and technical assistance efforts; and (4) an emphasis on positive actions that build on community assets and strengths.

Results include: (1) 23 completed asset based plans and reports that identify key themes, community assets, and actions; (2) Identification of approximately 50 short-term projects addressing site development, tourism, retail development, workforce, and other topics; (3) TNECD grants and other funding to help counties implement projects; (4) More visible University role in rural development; (5) Statewide network, approach and process to to assist with project implementation, plan revisions and evaluation; (6) Continuation of the program with an additional 20 counties in 2017 and follow-up activities with the first 23 counties; and (7) By focusing on community strengths,the project has fostered a more positive planning environment.  Rather than conversations about shortcomings and problems, communities are discussing what can quickly be done to capitalize on existing strengths.

Finalist Presentation

UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Long Beach on October 2-3, 2017. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.