Unicoi County citizens and officials were given an opportunity to meet face to face with the legislators during the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast at Erwin Town Hall on Friday, April 1.
Legislators in attendance included State Sen. Rusty Crowe. Also in attendance were Lana Moore, a field representative for Sen. Lamar Alexander, Jill Salyers, a field representative for Sen. Bob Corker, and Bill Darden, a field representative for Rep. Dr. Phil Roe.
“I know we are all concerned about the direction Unicoi County is going these days and where we are with regard to economic development, jobs and those sorts of things,” Crowe said. “The bad news is we are at about 7.4 percent unemployment in this county, which is the fifth highest in this state. So, we’ve got some work to do.”
Crowe also reported he has sent a letter to Randy Boyd, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, and requested that Unicoi County be moved from a Tier II community to a Tier IV in July.
“The higher tier you go, the more help and assistance (with jobs and economic development) you get,” he added.
Crowe also said the state is working with the county’s governing and economic development bodies to market the CSX rail yard, as well as assisting the county in taking steps to keep NN, Inc. in the county and even help it expand.
“Commissioner Boyd is putting emphasis worldwide on finding businesses and industries that match Unicoi County,” Crowe said. “He is working on those prospects for us.”
Moore reported on a highway bill passed by Congress last year, as well as on an omnibus bill passed at the end of 2015.
“The biggest thing I want to talk about from last year is the rewrite No Child Left Behind,” she added. “This was something that Sen. Alexander, in his position as chair of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, took it upon himself to make sure that this happened. … We now have a new piece of legislation. It is called ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ and it had overwhelming bipartisan support. … The big thing that it does is give power back to the states for education. … It does end the Common Core mandate.”
Salyers reported on Corker’s concerns regarding issues of national security and fiscal responsibility.
“Sen. Corker is the chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” Salyers said. “He continues to focus on the challenges we face across the world that challenge our national security and our future stability.”
Darden said Roe continues to serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee and the Education and Workforce Committee.
“He is very active in both,” Darden said. “In the VA matters, he is taking a leading role in trying to get as many of those fixed as possible.”
Darden said Roe continues to monitor the fallout from the closure of the Erwin rail yard by CSX.
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The breakfast was once again sponsored by Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (UCMH).
“Without them, this event would not be possible,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp said.
The audience then heard an update on the hospital from UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll.
“First, I would like to mention some recent improvements we have been able to make at the hospital,” Carroll said. “… They are very minor, but we certainly think they are helping improve the patient experience in our current facility. As of two weeks ago, we made changes to our outpatient registration. We created a new waiting area and a new outpatient registration area in the front of the hospital.”
Another improvement mentioned by Carroll is the update of the emergency department waiting room.
“That was another space that was in desperate need of a face lift,” he added. “We know our patients deserve a comfortable place to wait when they come in for emergency services. These changes have been very well received. Even though we are preparing for a new facility in the very near future, we want to make sure we offer the absolute best care for our patients in the facility we are in now. We are still a couple of years away from that new facility.”
Carroll also offered an update on the construction of the new hospital.
“Unicoi County Memorial Hospital joined Mountain States (Health Alliance) in 2013,” he said. “At that time, Mountain States committed to build a replacement facility for Unicoi County. We continue to make progress to be able to fulfill that commitment. Milestones that we most recently met are determining the services that will be offered at the new facility and the release of the request for proposal for design teams who wish to participate in that process to get back to us.”
The deadline to submit those proposal was Monday, April 4.
“Once we get those proposals back, we will narrow it down to the team we would like to work on the project,” Carroll added. “We expect that to take until the first week of June. Once that happens, then we can start to move forward with what the final design is going to look like.”
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Crowe also presented a proclamation to Dr. Joe Chambers for Chambers’ work in his community.
“Joe has gone above and beyond,” Crowe said.