Kendrick J. Curtis, PhD
Kendrick J. Curtis
Assistant Executive Director, Middle Tennessee Industrial Development Association
A graduate of the University of Tennessee (PhD 2008 and MS 2003) and the University of North Alabama (BS 2000), I have a deep love and appreciation for geography. As an undergraduate my geography classes offered understanding of the world in a way that other subjects had not. Geography is often a hard subject for those who are not its students to grasp. I vividly remember a conversation with one of my professors at UNA about two areas of focus that I found interesting – one how the shape of cities and utilities were intertwined and secondly how and why economic activities occurred where they do and the influence of location. Somewhat incorrectly, I felt the need to choose one versus the other all the while being pulled toward understanding and using GIS.
Although I had not scored particularly well on the GRE, my effort and dedication at UNA opened an opportunity to pursue graduate work in geography at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in the fall of 2000. Course work and professors who invested in me expanded upon my knowledge. In time I obtained a master’s degree under the direction of Dr. Charles Aiken. My thesis considered the changing geography of the Birmingham area of Alabama during the decades that it transitioned from a heavily primary sector to a service sector economy. In this, I found a topic that fit one of my two interests – economic geography.
After two years of employment with the State of Tennessee’s planning department (while finishing my thesis), I discovered an issue challenging the way conventional planning regulations managed growth. The advent of this decentralized wastewater technology allowed high densities removed from the physical constraints of central sewers presented a unique chance to study how a disruptive technology played out in an area with high growth pressures. Under Dr. Ron Foresta’s guidance, and in an unanticipated way, we had found a topic that fit my curiosity about infrastructure, regulations, and the built landscape. Before I finished this work, a UTK Geography alumni, Dan Hawk, offered me the chance to return to employment at TNECD’s Local Planning Assistance Office (LPAO) as the agency’s GIS Manager. Unknowingly, this proved invaluable to my career trajectory.
My dream to be a university professor (like my UNA mentors) was nearly achieved when in 2010 I was offered an assistant professor position at a small school in South Carolina. One of the harder decisions I’ve made, I declined the position and remained in Knoxville working full time for TNECD – for the first time with no real plan. However, that would not last long as a change in the governor’s office resulted in the closure of the LPAO division. Seemingly a disaster for my professional aspirations, this in hindsight was an amazing opportunity. One to always run hard at the task assigned, my education and work ethic were recognized, and I was offered the opportunity to propose, design and launch the State of Tennessee Select Tennessee Certified Site program. After launching and managing this program that helped communities develop industrial property to attract new companies, I was promoted in 2013 to TNECD’s Director of Community Development.
In 2015 I left the state and now am employed as the Assistant Director for the Middle Tennessee Industrial Development Association (MTIDA), a non-profit association assisting communities with their economic development activities in the mid-state. In this role I have drawn upon my years of using GIS technology and land development to help communities with site development and mapping needs. In hindsight I can see the path that brought me to a place where I daily see the confluence of the two areas I was passionate about as an undergraduate – economic geography and urban geography.
In a strange turn of fate, my dream of working with college students and showing them the important role geography has in understanding the world has also been realized. This has come in an unanticipated way and in a form that did not exist when I enrolled in my first geography course. I have taught online courses since 2007 for several different community and technical colleges. I first taught for Troy University, and in 2010 I began teaching for Florence Darlington Technical College. More recently, I have started teaching for Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tennessee and love the opportunity to both remain engaged in geographic education while working with GIS and economic geography in my full-time position.
Geography is an often-misunderstood discipline. However, for those who understand and see its relevance it presents an unparalleled view of the world. If I can ever be of assistance to a new geographer discovering or looking to grow in the field, please contact me.