By Kathryn Moore, Staff Writer
Nestled near the base of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, the city of Knoxville serves as the hub of East Tennessee. Only five hours from Union, Knoxville identifies strongly with the region’s rich Appalachian heritage and family-centered community.
Many publications have given Knoxville high marks on rankings and lists.
Kiplinger ranked Knoxville fifth on its “10 Best Value Cities for 2011” list for a vibrant economy, reasonable cost of living and amenities. In 2010, Business Facilities ranked the city the fifth top metro for economic growth potential.
Most important for Union students, BusinessWeek magazine named Knoxville as one of the “Best Cities for New College Grads” the same year.
About 180,000 people live in Knoxville, but nearly 1 million people reside in the city’s sprawling metropolitan area and call Knoxville home, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Taylor Maylott, junior conservation biology major and Knoxville resident, said expansive suburbs make the city seem not so crowded.
“Families and older people mostly live in the suburbs,” Maylott said. “The downtown, more urban areas are filled with the businesses, young professionals and college students.”
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, located southwest of the city’s downtown is the state’s largest public university, with an enrollment of more than 27,000. The school’s economic influence and citizens’ sense of pride in the university’s traditions affect many aspects of city life.
Knoxville also is home to several national corporate headquarters, such as public power provider Tennessee Valley Authority, movie theater chain Regal Entertainment Group, media company Scripps Networks Interactive and the nation’s largest truck stop chain, Pilot Flying J.
The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce attributes low taxes and affordable housing as appealing qualities for newcomers. Knoxville’s cost of living index is 15.8 percent lower than the U.S. average, and Tennessee does not collect income tax.
“A lot of college students come live in Knoxville for college and just decide to stay because they love the city and its opportunities,” Smith said.
Knoxville boasts several unique attractions. The Sunsphere, built to commemorate the 1982 World’s Fair hosted by the city, gives visitors a 360-degree view of the city and the East Tennessee area. World’s Fair Park, between the University of Tennessee campus and downtown, has a performance lawn for concerts and festivals and an interactive water play area. The Knoxville Zoo sits on 53 acres and has approximately 400,000 yearly visitors.
The city is about a 30-minute drive from Pigeon Forge, home to the Dollywood amusement park, and Gatlinburg, the gateway into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Seven major lakes surround Knoxville: Cherokee Lake, Douglas Lake, Watts Bar Lake, Norris Lake, Fort Loudon Lake, Melton Hill Lake and Tellico Lake. The French Broad and Holston Rivers combine to create the mouth of the winding Tennessee River.
Maylott said her favorite place in Knoxville is Concord Park, known by locals as “The Cove.”
“In the summertime, my family always goes to The Cove to rent a boat and have a day out on the lake,” Maylott said. “With all the lakes surrounding Knoxville, we like to use them as much as possible.”
The University of Tennessee’s athletic teams bring sports fans to Knoxville to cheer for – or against – the Vols. Knoxville has a minor league hockey team, the Knoxville Ice Bears, and the neighboring town of Sevierville hosts a minor league baseball team, the Tennessee Smokies.
Although Knoxville’s reputation as a college town is one of its greatest strengths, to some, it also is its greatest weakness. With so many college students in the city, the downtown area has evolved from a family-friendly community environment to a lively nightlife center filled with bars and nightclubs.
“The downtown area is overrun with college students,” Maylott said. “The nightlife is a little overwhelming if it’s something you’re not into, so I just stay away.”