By Kendal Groner
The announcement that Pyranha, a manufacturer of specialist whitewater kayaks headquartered in the United Kingdom, will be relocating its North American distribution base to Erwin shows that Unicoi County continues to become a focal point for outdoor recreation.
According to a recent press release, Pyranha was drawn to Erwin not only due to a favorable tax climate, but also because of its impressive natural assets. A leader in research and development of polymer kayaks since the 1970s, Pyranha has chosen a spot alongside the Nolichucky River where it will distribute kayaks as far as the West Coast and across Canada.
“This is exactly the result we hope to see as we continue to encourage investment in our natural capital as a form of economic development,” said Kayla Carter, Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership’s Outdoor Development manager. “Erwin is ahead of the trend in terms of tapping into the outdoors as a form of economic vitality. All of our regional partners should take note and follow suit as we will all benefit from Pyranha’s investment in Erwin.”
The company will be locating at 2000 Jonesborough Road, formerly Cherokee Adventures, across from the rock landform known as the “Devil’s Looking Glass.” Pyranha is expected to invest up to $1 million in property, plant and equipment at their new distribution site. Eight to 12 new jobs are also expected to be created.
The Outdoor Industry Association cites outdoor recreation as a powerful economic driver and as of 2017 measured that $1.59 billion was spent on each year in the 1st Congressional District in Tennessee.
“That is a huge economic impact and in Unicoi County alone tourism is a multi-million dollar industry,” said Tyler Engle, director of the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board. “It employs nearly 100 people, so we see that impact on our property taxes, sales tax and that’s a direct release on each household in Unicoi County when we have people who aren’t from here spending money. Pyranha has been in Asheville for many years and we are pleased to see these jobs coming over the mountain.”
Mike Patterson, Pyranha US head of operations, said the company’s North American distribution headquarters have been in Asheville for more than 18 years; however, as business costs rose, Patterson said the surrounding infrastructure became “strained and overly saturated.”
“My wife, Melanie, and I are longtime Erwin residents and we saw no better option than Unicoi County when tasked with finding a more suitable location for the company,” Patterson said. “The proximity to Interstate 26 along with the low cost of living, affordable real estate and low taxes make Erwin and Unicoi County the obvious choice.”
Patterson said while looking for somewhere to relocate the company, the new facility was one of the first spots that came to mind, which is also capable of accommodating any future desires to expand.
“We think there is no better place for a kayak company to locate,” he said. “Unicoi County is sometimes overlooked in favor of larger metropolitan areas. However, as an outdoor-focused company, we like the direction that Erwin and Unicoi County are headed with respect to promoting and capitalizing on outdoor recreational opportunities. We feel strongly about the area’s potential and hope to play a part in the economic growth of this place we love so much.”
The Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County is expected to make presentations related to the project to committees of the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County governments in the coming weeks. JEDB Chairman Lee Brown also expressed his excitement for the company, which he calls a “natural fit” for Unicoi County and the Nolichucky River.
“Pyranha has decided to capitalize on the great opportunities in Unicoi County for outdoor recreation and lower cost of doing business here,” Brown said. “It is a great pleasure to welcome Pyranha to our growing stable of outdoor recreation providers in Unicoi County.”