By Curtis Carden
The American Job Center of Unicoi County officially has a new home, nestled inside downtown Erwin.
After months of operating at the East Tennessee State University extension office, located on North Main Avenue, the Center reopened its doors to the public on Monday, March 14, at 201 South Main Ave. in the former Mountain Commerce Bank building.
“This is our first day that we’ve been open,” Career Specialist Johanna Miller said. “It has already been a huge difference. To go from a one room space, sharing with ETSU, it has been exciting and neat. Tish (Oldham) was very helpful in letting us set up in her office, but it has been great to move here. We can offer training courses and other things we couldn’t offer at the other facility. I can provide those services and that’s what going to help people get the better jobs and find employment,” Miller said.
With recent news of job layoffs at Morrill Motors and the previous news of CSX cutting back operations at its Erwin yard, Miller brings a level of positivity to individuals seeking assistance.
“Because of the negativity and the down mood, it is important, especially in my position, to keep a positive outlook,” Miller said. “The other problem is, some people don’t know who will be losing their job at Morrill. When people try to talk about Erwin being a ghost town, it is important for me to tell them it is not, that jobs are available, things are going to be OK and they’re doing the right thing by coming by here.”
The Center has seen positive strides from community members since the news of hundreds of job losses hit the county. Miller said that former CSX employees, who took part in classes offered by the facility to help them prepare for other employment opportunities, have excelled in the classroom. The classes have been offered in conjunction with Northeast State.
“They’ve outlasted people who aren’t from CSX,” Miller said. “They’re doing a real great job; I’m so proud of them. Some of them have already finished their math classes, and have already started on chemistry classes, ahead of schedule. It is impressive.
“The reason they’re doing so well is because they want this. They are so dedicated to bettering themselves, doing well and finding a better job. I didn’t realize how hard their lives were … you make good money on the railroad, but they have a hard life with it. They’re taking this education and flying with it.”
Individuals have been taking full advantage of the facility, Miller added, stating that former railroad workers have been able to find jobs elsewhere.
“We’ve had CSX workers get employment,” she added with a smile. “They come in, glowing, and they’re getting these $28 an hour positions that they thought they’d never get. People are putting in the hard work, we’re just facilitating it. It’s just great to see the excitement.”
The Center serves members of Unicoi County, Miller said.
“A lot of the people I’ve seen that aren’t with Morrill or CSX are employed … but are underemployed,” she added. “They want to know what jobs are out there and I’m here to tell them that there are jobs out there. You just have to know what to look for, the right keywords to put in online, how to create a resume and how to present yourself for an interview.”
There are still pieces to be put in place inside the new building, Miller said. The Center will be outfitted with computers for individuals to take part in various courses and to search for employment. The building offers a meeting room which can double up as a room for teaching, and a host of tools for Unicoi countians.
“They just need to come down and talk to me,” Miller said about anybody who hasn’t used the Center yet. “If they’re low income, underemployed or just want to see what’s out there … come on down. We can’t promise, but our goal is to assist everybody who comes through the door.”
The Center will be open Monday through Saturday. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Monday, and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The building will also be open on Friday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, call the Center at 735-5773.