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Board discusses high-priority obligations

Members of the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board met to prioritize their economic growth initiatives on Friday, Nov. 16.
The meeting began with open discussion about high-priority obligations which are to be compiled and completed by Tish Oldham, the recently hired director of community outreach and economic development through East Tennessee State University’s Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research.
A short-term goal agreed upon by the board members was compiling lists of properties available in the town of Erwin, town of Unicoi and the county.
“I think we've talked about an inventory and a packet for a long time,” Erwin City Recorder Randy Trivette said.
Oldham said she has been meeting with business owners and also plans to meet with realtors as well.
“I'm going to need to make sure they know what we are trying to do,” Oldham said.
A full inventory of available properties, Trivette said, would allow the board to be more efficient with responses and proposals to be sent out to companies.
“The big thing is we don’t have a lot to respond about,” said Lee Brown, who is a member of the board. “We have about three properties that we know are available and have been in communication with the owners that we can respond about, but beyond that we don’t have much else to include.”
Board Secretary Larry Rea said the board needs to actively seek businesses and industries to approach about coming to the county.
“One of the things I guess that we have to be doing is being a little more proactive in going after some things,” Rea said.
Oldham suggested creating multiple packets tailored to each type of company that may be interested in locating to Unicoi County.
“We could have an RFP (request for proposal) that's more industrial, have something else that's set up for commercial and retail and then have something else set up for some downtown development,” Oldham said. “We may have to have a variety of approaches to how we bring development to the community.”
Brown said there is also some level of difficulty in bringing incentives to the table for potential industries and businesses. Trivette said tax abatement has been one type of incentive, but they need to seek other incentives.
“[Companies] like tax abatement, but the tax abatement really doesn't give them any up-front cash or up-front incentive,” Trivette said. “I think those up front incentives are more attractive.”
Oldham agreed with Trivette’s notion.
“People expect something up front these days,” Oldham said. “It's just very competitive and more competitive than it was. Having nothing to offer gets kind of hard because there are so many other people who are offering.”
Oldham said it is important for the board to find a way to market the county in order to seek out industries best suited for the overall aesthetic.
“Finding something that suits the community is going to be critical,” Oldham said.
Another goal the board hopes to complete is an Internet display of the county’s overall inventory of properties once the information is compiled.
The meeting was adjourned with each municipality assigned the task of finding available properties and reporting those back to Oldham.

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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