By Richard Rourk
As the budget year comes to a close for the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB,) the board begins to turn its focus to the future.
According to JEDB Executive Director Tyler Engle, there are five nationally known businesses looking to locate to Unicoi County. Engle announced these opportunities, which include restaurants and retail stores, during the June 26 JEDB meeting held at SquareOne in Erwin.
“I can’t give any names at this time, but we do have five businesses we are looking at,” Engle told The Erwin Record.
According to Engle, the five are just a handful of businesses that Buxton, a company that utilizes geohistory to provide recruitment information to possible retailers and restaurants for its clients, has contacted.
“(Buxton has) a list of 20 businesses that would fit well in Unicoi County, but we chose to go with five right now, because five is a good number for one year,” Engle said.
The JEDB agreed to a contract to pay Buxton $50,000 a year for their services for three years during a meeting in March.
Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership CEO Mitch Miller acknowledged that the JEDB was on pace with the region in economic growth.
“Economic development is a patient game,” Miller said.
According to Engle, Unicoi County will be looking to bring in more industry as well, with the pad ready former Morgan Insulation Site on Second Street in Erwin nearing completion.
“We look forward to the economic energy it will bring,” Engle said.
According to JEDB President Lee Brown, the former Morgan Insulation site is only lacking gravel fill to be officially pad ready.
“My hope is that there are 6-8 industrial properties in the county for development in the near future,” Engle said.
With focus on future industry, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said she would like to see the JEDB do something special for the industries that are currently in the county.
“I recommend that we have an industrial appreciation lunch,” Hensley said. “We used to do that and it was a way to get out of the office and relax. If we could do that and show them how much they mean to our community, that would be good.”
Engle acknowledged that the board is always looking at ways to honor the industries in Unicoi County.
“We are working very closely to look at our existing industries, those employees are the ones that are paying taxes to keep this county going,” Engle said.
According to Miller, Unicoi County has one of the top weekly and bi-weekly wages in the area. “Unicoi County has the second highest weekly wage, only to Kingsport,” Miller said. “Tyler (Engle) believes in regionalism; that’s the kind of partnership you have to have.”
According to Engle, an area that is of concern for the JEDB is residential growth.
“The market is bound up constrained and tight,” Engle said.
Engle said he hopes that the JEDB can shift focus on how to free up new residential spaces. “We are looking to apply incentives for new housing and help developers identify land for purchase,” Engle said. “We are one of six communities in America that have been chosen to work in Workforce Housing workshops.”
According to Brown, that is a big deal for Unicoi County.
“They know we will follow up on things; that is why we were selected,” Brown said.
Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff agreed with Brown.
“We are taking expert advice and recommendations and are completing them,” Rosenoff said. “These meetings we tell you about are happening every day.”
Brown also said that the JEDB must stay on track with current projects.
“We can’t ask others to invest in our community if we don’t,” Brown said. “Now’s the time to invest in our future.”
One of the current projects is a traffic light to go in on Second Street at the Taco Bell and Bojangles entrance in time for the new Food City store, which is slated to open in late July. “There is a temporary signal ordered and will be operational before Food City opens; everything is on track,” Rosenoff said. “Work will start on infrastructure for the permanent traffic signal while the temporary signal is up.”
In a last order of business, JEDB Treasurer Rob Stromberg announced that the JEDB currently has $89,000 in the bank as of the end of the third quarter of the budget year, which ended in March.