THE BEGINNING of the year marked a large change in the industrial community of Coffee County, as Cookeville native Stephen Crook was hired as the Coffee County Industrial Board executive director. The selection was made through an extensive nationwide search, and since joining the board in January, Crook has worked hard to integrate into the Coffee County community.
“I think the first thing anybody who’s coming in as an economic developer should be doing… with a new community, is listening,” Crook said. “Listening to their employers, listening to the leadership in the community, asking some questions of their leadership, and trying to find out what they can do to help navigate this community.”
Crook said the industry board has spent a lot of time since he became director, meeting with existing employers, and they intend to continue to do so.
“The industrial board had a tremendous history, a long-standing success track record dating back multiple executive directors,” Crook said. “The objective was to come in, find out what works, find out what doesn’t, and put together a strategy to attack the goals of this community – that being high-quality jobs with longterm implications.”
Crook said that another major goal is to continue giving citizens (especially young people) a reason to stay in the community, to give back, and to grow. Crook had previously been the vice president of economic development for the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, as well as an organizer and developer of the Highlands Economic Partnership. He said that being in economic development, and especially in a position such as industrial board executive director, offered a lot of opportunity for service and collaboration.
“It’s a job about service to the community and to people all around you,” Crook said. “It’s working collaboratively with employers and elected officials alike, to try and create an economic environment where businesses can thrive and our citizens can have access to high-quality jobs that improve their quality of life.”
Bringing Dot Foods, Inc. to Coffee County was one of the largest accomplishments of the board this year. As Crook was a part of recruiting thousands of new jobs in Cookeville, there is no doubt he will continue to do the same here.
“We believe that we have selected a quality individual with a strong track record of success, to lead our work in growing Coffee County toward the place we want it to be,” Industrial Board Chairman David Bond said, when Crook was first selected.
Crook said that he chose to come to Coffee County because of its potential, and he hopes to continue to help see the economy thrive.
“I was familiar with the community,” Crook said. “I really felt like the skill I had developed could be put to good use to serve this community.”
Crook said he has grown close to many in the community since he has come here, and the community has embraced him in kind.
“I’ve been so humbled by the reaction from this community,” Crook said. “We’ve found that that special something we saw in the application process has been proven to be true, there’s just so much to love about this area, and I look forward to being here for many, many years to come.” GN