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Hensley: 'Things are looking up in 2016'

With the completion of the revitalization construction downtown, the town of Erwin is looking to the future – and it is a bright one, according to Mayor Doris Hensley.
“I think it was a very successful year for the town,” Hensley said about 2015 on Tuesday, Jan. 26. “We finished our downtown revitalization, completing all three phases. We are still looking for industry and jobs for the town … We purchased the Morgan Insulation property and we’ve had several requests for proposals on the property. We’ve met with several industries, so we’re still hopeful that we will land an industry here in the near future.”
The downtown work has led some retail establishments to open up shop in Erwin, Hensley said, which assists with the sales tax revenue. The town is confident it can attract more retail for downtown in 2016 with various events being coordinated by the Erwin Downtown Merchants Association, Joint Economic Development Board and Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce.
Continued improvements to the downtown district may also be possible, Hensley said. The town is seeking grant funding, which businesses can receive to spruce up the outside of their establishments in order to gain more customers.
“We’ve been working with the development district to see if grants are available,” Hensley said. “I would like to see us push it forward. We’ve also been working with a local bank to get together low-interest loans for any business that would be interested in improving their facade.”
The town also finished the skate park last year, which is something for the county’s youth to enjoy, according to Hensley.
The different projects in place and those coming down the pipeline are a bright sign for the town following up the decision by CSX Transportation to close down the Erwin Terminal and reduce train traffic through the area late last year.
“It was a tremendous tragedy for our county and region, but at the same time, I thought it brought our community together,” Hensley said. “Everyone got together to help educate those who lost their jobs to prepare them for new careers and our industries have been very helpful by giving workers first choice for hiring opportunities.”
One of the positives that came from the closure was the opening of the Tennessee American Job Center, located at the ETSU Extension office in Erwin. Hensley said she is impressed by the number of individuals that have used the center and would like to see it become part of the community for the long haul.
The decision by CSX has also led to more properties available for purchase, according to Hensley.
“The Economic Development, CSX and the state have been working diligently to find industry to be conducive to the buildings that were vacated,” Hensley said. “CSX also has their property up for sale, which can be used to recruit for more industries to locate here and help increase the rail traffic.”
Town officials are currently working on beautification projects at the exits coming into town and are looking for funding to begin work on different items at Fishery Park and the Linear Trail.
Hensley said the town is looking for grant funding to replace the tennis courts at Fishery Park. The town is also seeking funding to improve the ballpark at the park, as well as drainage and different electrical outlets to provide an opportunity for various events held there. The same idea goes for the Trail, where the town hopes to pave broken concrete.
Other plans that are underway for the new year include working with the housing district to establish patio homes and apartments in the area and working with the development district for a home program to assist the elderly and families with low-to-moderate incomes.
Unicoi County has also been working with Carter and Washington counties to create a Tri-County Industry Board to help present the region as a whole and recruit potential businesses.
Along with businesses opening downtown, Hensey added that the passage of liquor-by-the-drink will assist in town revenues for the coming year.
With a bevy of projects on the horizon, the mayor added a message to the citizens of Erwin:
“Things are looking up,” she said. “We hit the bottom and now we’re ready to bounce back. We’ll see some more positive improvements coming in 2016.”