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Leaders promise assistance for CSX employees

State and local leaders gathered at Erwin Town Hall on Friday, Oct. 30, to address the future of Unicoi County and how to help those who lost their jobs following CSX Transportation, Inc.’s recent decision to reduce operations in the county – a move that has affected approximately 300 workers.
The gathering was a special roundtable meeting organized by State Senator Rusty Crowe. The different leaders each worked to address the issue of job displacement and what’s ahead for Unicoi County.
Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd took part in the meeting and told the different agencies that “we (TNECD) are going to stand with you.”
While attracting new industries into the county is on the table, Boyd talked about a new rural development task force that was implemented from his office in Nashville through a joint effort from a handful of state and federal agencies.
The commissioner added that department has an additional $6 million for industry projects and $1 million for tourist site development, which could pay dividends for the upcoming projects at Rocky Fork, including an installation of a water line and other items.
Boyd then called on Ken Rea, with the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD), to talk about the status of grants for the park.
Rea told officials that applications by the FTTD for a $525,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and a $650,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, associated with the CDBG, had failed due to different intangibles needed for consideration.
Boyd, who helps orchestrate the CDBG funding, said his department can assist with helping improve the county’s score for funding, while Roe added he would assist at the federal level to help the county get the additional funding for Rocky Fork to help attract tourist dollars.
While tourism was addressed, Kathy Pierce, executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Workforce Investment Board, gave thanks to CSX for a $20,000 donation to the Alliance of Business & Training to help displaced workers looking to get back on track following the closures of train shops in the county.
Jane Covington, VP of resident state government affairs for CSX, said the company is willing to work with the community regarding using property off Nolichucky Avenue in Erwin.
Covington did not rule out the possibility of operations potentially returning to the area if changes to coal traffic happen.
Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley spoke about the potential of the railroad being used for excursion tours from the area to Spartanburg, S.C., to help generate tourists and funds coming into the town.
While some workers have begun the process of relocating to different terminals across the CSX network, others are still unsure what their futures will hold and where they will find work.
Workers were given a 60-day pay and benefits as result of the layoffs, but during Friday’s meeting, it was discussed that the pay would not be enough to support the families through the holidays.
A plan is currently in place for former workers to address holiday concerns. A Christmas fund has been established with support going to help the Erwin Kiwanis Club support the families through their annual Christmas shopping tour.
Kiwanian Bill Gaines was in attendance at the meeting and made officials aware of the potential donating opportunity, which received full support from the group.
When addressed with the questions about retirement not transferring over to a new location for relocated workers, Covington said she would take notes and return back to CSX for further answers to assist workers.
In the coming weeks, a career center is to be opened at the East Tennessee State University extension office on North Main Avenue in Erwin.
Others in attendance for the round table included Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, State Representative John Holsclaw, the Unicoi County School Board and Sterling Van der Spuy with the state’s Workforce Services Division.
Van der Spuy brought different items offered by the state, including Tennessee Reconnect, which offers free schooling at a community college or technology center in the state and is available to displaced workers.
“There’s been some great things happen in Unicoi County,” U.S. Congressman Representative Phil Roe said. “It was an exciting time when I was here for the Rocky Fork dedication and to have (the CSX decision) occur, it is obviously devastating. We’re going to get things moving with every resource we have.”
County Mayor Greg Lynch said he appreciated the recent support from the state, county and surrounding counties.
“It has been a rough couple of weeks,” he said. “First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone for the support. It was like the soul of Unicoi County had been ripped out after the company’s decision. The railroad was, and still is, part of our heritage.”
Lynch also said that a special task force meeting, organized by Tish Oldham, executive director for the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County, was held on Thursday, Oct. 29. Lynch said “a lot of things were accomplished” as individuals representing local industries, government and social services organizations discussed how to assist CSX employees and their families.
“This is one of our biggest priorities – to take care of the folks affected by the decision,” Lynch said.