A passion for Knoxville and its people comes as easily to mayoral candidate Mark Padgett as does breathing. That could be a liability, to be seen as the quintessential politician, quick with the smile and an answer. But Padgett thinks it can be an asset, the ability to spread the word about the positives of the city, in turn attracting new companies to the area.
"Knoxville deserves more than a city manager," he says. "It deserves someone with business experience that can bring a fresh perspective and energy to the city, an ambassador."
Out of the largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), Knoxville has had the lowest unemployment rate in the state throughout the recession. Now hovering around the 7 percent range, that's not good enough for Padgett.
Knoxville directly benefits from the University of Knoxville's flagship school being located here, as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). But Padgett points out that all of those entities rely on government funding, something that can be precarious in meager times.
Granted, eGovernment Solutions, the company he formed with $5,000 and a borrowed laptop, was a program created for the state and its municipalities. But he firmly believes the small private business owner is the lifeblood of an economy and he wants to attract more to the city. Small vendors that supply larger local businesses are a great way to start, he says.
Padgett ticks off a list of larger local companies such as Ruby Tuesday's and Clayton Homes. "They all rely on smaller vendors. I'd like to see those suppliers come from here, from Knoxville."
He'd also like to see more companies come to the area like the fairly recent addition of Green Mountain Coffee but also wants to see more jobs come from the high-tech and clean energy sector. Our unique location to the university and ORNL should be used to produce not just patents and products but local jobs, he says.
Padgett believes that if he focuses on jobs, the economy is strengthened and the rest of the issues are easier to deal with - a positive Catch-22 of sorts - and holds up safe, connected neighborhoods as an example. He would like to see Knoxville be the "most walkable, bikeable, connected city in the country. And in turn, if we become that; if we become healthier and greener we attract more business."
These are the sort of things that Padgett has been saying as he tirelessly knocks on doors and attends meetings, events, forums and debates. His story, that of the local young man that makes good - a product of four generations of local family businesses and public service - combined with his wide smile, youthful energy and picture-perfect family are the makings of a campaign manager's dream.
But then you watch him in quiet moments when his guard is down, when he makes his way through the Old City, talking with the girl who made his coffee. As he taste-tests chocolate and jokes with her you realize that "politician Padgett" is the same as "everyday Padgett." He knows the guy on the corner, unloading a sink from a plumbing truck, knows him well, by the conversation. He stops to greet the homeless man walking down the street the other way and you realize they are on a first-name basis. These are unrehearsed moments and you realize that the passion Padgett feels for Knoxville and its people is genuine. The real deal.