By Richard Rourk
The Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) of Unicoi County met on Thursday, Aug. 20, to discuss several strategies to promote economic and housing development in the county.
JEDB Executive Director Tyler Engle announced a list of several objectives that make up the county’s current strategic plan for development.
“We are looking at every avenue for growth and some of these plans go hand-in-hand,” Engle said. “We are looking for ways to market our region for both industry and residential development.”
Of the objectives, Engle announced that several properties are being focused on in the county. “We have had good feedback from the property in Erwin that used to house Morgan Insulation,” Engle said. “As we know that land is pad ready and prior to COVID-19, we had several inquiries about that location.”
Another tract of land that the JEDB focused on was a piece of land on Dry Creek Road. Engle suggested that the board allow the 20-acre vacant property, which was previously identified as a prime industrial development site, be changed to residential property.
“We should let that option on the land expire; it would probably be best served as a residential tract,” Engle said.
The board instead voted to renew an option to purchase the 20-acre tract of vacant property on Dry Creek Road. According to JEDB Chairman Lee Brown, the property had been listed as one of the most promising industrial developments in the county, but the property lacked railroad crossing improvements and a proper access to a wastewater system.
Board member Paul Farnor made the motion to renew the option after noting that the board faced a similar situation with an industrial tract in Unicoi which now houses a manufacturer.
“We had to sit on that particular property for I believe eight years,” Farnor said.
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Engle shifted the meeting to give an update on the implementation of a remote work-ready employment program in Unicoi County – the FlexJobs Program created by the TVA.
“The program, developed by TVA Economic Development, in partnership with FlexJobs, is designed to connect residents with additional remote work job opportunities and assist communities in diversifying their economic development strategy,” Engle said.
The initiative, which was previously presented to the JEDB during its July 22 meeting, provides the JEDB and Erwin Fiber with free FlexJobs memberships, which offer such benefits as:
• A search feature to explore “vetted” jobs of potential interest in 50-plus career fields;
• More than 170 jobs skills tests that can be taken limitless times to showcase/improve career abilities;
• Webinars with career experts and hiring managers to help in job searches;
• Special notification for early registration to members-only access FlexJobs Virtual Job Fairs, hiring events and special employer spotlight webinars;
• Alert emails that match remote and flexible jobs related to a member’s profile; and
• A personal dashboard to help stay organized, motivated, and educated.
According to Engle, six county residents have already registered and many others have sent in inquiries about the online jobs program.
“I feel that all 50 slots will be filled quickly,” Engle said.
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Brown closed the meeting by gauging the board’s interest in promoting the natural resources of Unicoi County to draw in tourists.
“We have so many beautiful trails and waterfalls in our backyard, but the problem is that most people don’t know where to find them,” Brown said. “If there is a way that we can get a map and directions pointing to these areas, that would be a huge draw to the region. If we can be thinking about someone to take on this cause and champion our natural resources, we can discuss the next time we meet.”
Brown also gauged the board’s interest in meeting more regularly going forward.
“We propose meeting monthly during the fourth Thursday of each month at noon to meet going forward,” Brown said.
Following positive feedback by the board, Brown announced that the board will have a standing meeting every month by Zoom on the fourth Thursday at noon. The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 28, at noon.