by David Stanley
Our city urgently needs to market Oak Ridge to the local U.S. Department of Energy workforce. That workforce brings a billion dollar payroll into East Tennessee each year. Unfortunately, the Oak Ridge economy sees very little of this money.
Over the last two decades, the erosion of DOE residency has cost the City of Oak Ridge a great deal of payroll. The problem looks even worse when one considers the concurrent payroll increase of our city’s competition. For example, over those two decades the gap between the annual Oak Ridge and Knox County DOE payrolls grew by $130 million dollars. That’s just the growth in the gap. The total gap in DOE payroll between Oak Ridge and Knox County is now approximately $270 million dollars per year.
No wonder Turkey Creek and so many new housing developments have gone over there. That’s where the DOE payroll went!
The situation becomes even more intriguing when one considers that the Anderson and Knox County payrolls were much closer two decades ago. In 1993, the gap in DOE payroll between the two counties was only $68 million per year. Now that gap has nearly tripled, to $200 million per year.
Today, new DOE workers enter a workforce where 84 percent of their co-workers do not live in Oak Ridge. The main picture these new workers get of our city comes from the competition. Most do not even talk to an Oak Ridge realtor before making a housing decision. They simply go elsewhere to live—mainly Farragut.
The DOE numbers show that it would take only a 5.5 percent residency increase to boost the Oak Ridge economy by $60 million dollars per year or $300 million over a five-year period. That would provide valuable new revenue to finance our schools and maintain our wonderful Oak Ridge city experience.
Oak Ridge has an important competitive advantage, since the city is located right next to the DOE plants. Our top-flight schools, beautiful parks and greenways, and rich cultural activities make this a wonderful place for families.
In addition, the recession, high cost of gasoline, and the congestion on the Pellisippi Parkway make Oak Ridge a more desirable place to live.
Anderson County has made this issue a priority. The Oak Ridge City Council should do likewise. They need a fresh approach. Now is the time to sell Oak Ridge.
￼David Stanley is an Oak Ridge surgeon and candidate for the Oak Ridge City Council.