The Knoxville Chamber hosted the political event of the season – the shrimp boil – from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. Eddie Mannis wasn’t there.
Seems some enthusiastic youngsters had organized a “Young Professionals Meet & Greet” for Mannis at the West Knox home of Emily and Shannon Harper. What to do? There was never a doubt for Mannis.
His campaign had a table at the chamber event with plenty of volunteers to spread the word. But the candidate himself stood on the Harpers’ patio to field questions and hear comments from the kids who hadn’t checked their parents’ social calendar before scheduling their event.
“I was really impressed with the people there,” said event co-host Justin Bailey. “It wasn’t the usual good old boys club. It was genuinely 40 and younger folks from all over Knoxville – from Rocky Hill to Norwood.”
Bailey asked Mannis his “big picture” vision for Knoxville.
“I look around at everyone here and I know that a lot of you have young families. After you raise your children and they go off to college and get married, I want Knoxville to be the city that your children choose to come back to to raise their own families.”
Casey Matheny thanked Mannis for remembering Norwood and Inskip. “I see your signs on my street and I see you knocking on doors, and honestly I’m just grateful that you believe in my part of the city because I don’t think other candidates have.”
Mannis grew up in Inskip’s Frog Level and is a graduate of Central High School. He built on a part-time job during college to launch what is now Prestige Cleaners, employing some 150.
Garrett Thompson asked Mannis whether he would focus more on recruiting new companies to Knoxville or on growing small businesses.
Mannis said, “I look around at the young entrepreneurs here tonight and the others here in Knoxville, and I think it’s so important that our next mayor makes sure that the entrepreneurs who already call Knoxville home have a place to thrive.
“I also think it’s important that the young business leaders coming out of local colleges don’t just get in their cars and head to Atlanta or Charlotte. It will be my job to make Knoxville the place they stay and create the next big innovations in business.”
That said, Mannis continued, “I will recruit business and jobs to Knoxville. I understand it’s important to do what’s best for the region, but as the mayor of Knoxville, I will compete for Knoxville.”
Mannis, who turned 61 in April, is older than his major opponents, Indya Kincannon and Marshall Stair. But on Thursday, at least, he held the attention of nearly 100 young professionals who had come to hear him. Maybe it was entrepreneurs rallying around one of their own. Maybe it was respect for Mannis’ solid accomplishments in business and civic life – he founded HonorAir Knoxville and continues to provide office space and cover overhead for it. He chaired the Zoo Knoxville board that raised money for massive upgrades.
On Thursday, Eddie Mannis talked about Knoxville’s future with the young professionals who are Knoxville’s future. It was time well spent.