Unicoi County development board to build on momentum

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 2, 2018 at 10:24 PM

ERWIN — The Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County has begun 2018 building on the momentum it gained over the past year.

The board’s quarterly meeting Friday was highlighted by a review of the board’s successes in 2017 and the work laid out to build on those accomplishments in the in the year ahead.

JEDB Executive Director Tyler Engle ticked off a list of the board’s continuing areas of focus, including visits to existing industries and businesses and a resulting increase in “retail recognition,” ongoing grant-funded projects and new grant applications, integrated planning efforts and advocacy for more economic-development friendly legislation.

Engle said the board’s hope for 2018 is to step up its business visitations and expand its base of retail recognition countywide in partnership with the Adam Chandler consulting firm that is conducting a retail study of the county.

“That is going to increase our sales tax and help everyone here by increasing the (tax-funded) resources we have for infrastructure and the square footage of (development) space we can offer,” Engle said.

He said the several grants the board has applied for and other grants that are on the table include a $500,000 grant for the Morgan industrial site on the Second Street (Highway 107) corridor into downtown that could take the vacant site from “shovel ready” to “pad ready” for construction.

A TVA grant secured by the board in 2016 is funding the current demolition and future leveling and seeding of the abandoned insulation manufacturing plant that is expected to be completed this spring.

Multiple planning efforts initiated last year and currently nearing completion will be consolidated in the year ahead, Engle said.

The planning includes a strategic plan to guide the board’s work over the next two decades, a comprehensive land use plan for the county being developed by the First Tennessee Development District.

Also, there’s a county asset survey funded by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Erwin Utilities’ Cool and Connected broadband expansion, funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

A separate $15,000 grant for the Cool and Connected project is also providing a competitive “Co-Starters” entrepreneurial program that includes nine weeks of instruction and a business pitch contest that will award the winner up to $4,000 in startup money, a year of free broadband services and a one-year membership in the county’s Chamber of Commerce.

Lee Brown, Erwin Utilities’ general manager and chairman of the JEDB, said the utility is also working to provide a “co-working” facility in the former Clinchfield Senior Center dance school that will provide desks, internet connection and teleconferencing equipment.

Also provided: a conference area that will be available for budding entrepreneurs to lease by the day, week or month beginning in about six to eight weeks.

Mitch Miller, head of Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership of Unicoi, Washington and Carter counties, said the partners’ joint efforts, including bi-weekly staff meetings, marketing, site analysis and workforce development, will also continue through the coming year.

For marketing, Miller provided the JEDB with aerial photos of the Morgan site that will show investors not only the expanse and location of the property but the mountain backdrop it is set against.

Miller said additional aerial shots of downtown Erwin will be forthcoming and by March will be put together in a bird’s eye video of what the region has to offer.

FTDD Community Planner Ronda Sawyer updated the board on the development of the county’s comprehensive land use plan, which has moved into its third phase and will be focused on community input-gathering through March.

To involve as many Unicoi County residents as possible in the plan, Sawyer said, public input sessions will be conducted in double sessions from 4-5 p.m and 6-7 p.m. at Unicoi County High School, two elementary schools on opposite ends of of the county, and at other community locations in Flag Pond, Bumpass Cove and Limestone Cove.

The public input sessions will begin Feb. 19 at Temple Hill Elementary. Other dates and locations will be announced.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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