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Public Works Week: Meet Sign-maker Keith Black 
There are tens of thousands of people in Knoxville who don't personally know Keith Black, but they see his handiwork every day.

Black, a 28-year City of Knoxville employee, is the guy who single-handedly makes as many as 8,000 traffic signs every year.

Talk about a production assembly line. That's roughly 167 metal signs hand-crafted each week, advising motorists to stop, yield, use caution, merge or where and when to park.

Keith Black is on a mission: "Everyone should have good-looking signs."

During National Public Works Week, City Blog is profiling a few of the front-line City employees whom Knoxville relies on to function more safely and smoothly. #KnoxvilleJobWellDone

"I make them all," says Black, who works in the Engineering Department's Sign Shop. "I make pretty much anything dealing with speed limits, street names, or anything special that a motorist needs to know."

But Black isn't content to just take work orders as they roll in and check a box when they're done. He's got a sense of ownership in the look and functionality of his city's signs. For years, he's been on a mission to ferret out and replace old signs that are bent, faded and illegible.

He's a consummate professional - and maybe a perfectionist.

"When I was a sign installer, I'd look for those old signs," he says. "After hours, I'd see one, and I'd report it. I got ribbed a little bit for that, but once a sign gets to be 40 years old, you can't read them. It's a safety issue.

"Besides, everyone should have good-looking signs. Those old signs didn't have the block numbers, or the white trim. And as they aged, they just didn't look nice anymore."

So how can one man make so many signs?

About five years ago, the City of Knoxville became the first government in Tennessee to start digitally printing its signs. It invested in state-of-the-art equipment that can design, color and print signs - and bypass the decades-old laborious process of making cut-outs. 

Not only is it faster, but it also allows the Sign Shop to create unique one-of-kind signs with tailored messages.

"I enjoy creating signs, and I love my job," says Black. "I find it to be peaceful. And I take a lot of pride in my work. I'm kind of old school. I never say 'That's good enough' when it's not perfect."

"I never say 'that's good enough' when it's not perfect," Keith Black says of his signs.

Posted by evreeland On 17 May, 2022 at 12:37 PM