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Small business training and pitch competition on deck in Erwin

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 30, 2017 at 11:14 PM

ERWIN — The quarterly meeting of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County on Monday included news of a new small-business owner training program and pitch competition with prize money for a start-up in downtown Erwin.

JEDB Director Tyler Engle said the the Cool & Connected Downtown Erwin Entrepreneurs Business grant project was made possible by a $15,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to Erwin Utilities.

Modeled on similar programs conducted successfully in Bristol and Johnson City, the project will include a nine-week business training program.

Engle said the course will be conducted with help from the Tennessee Small Business Development Program and an entrepreneurial business plan competition conducted in collaboration with the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County.

The business pitch competition will be judged by a panel of experienced business owners and will offer a $4,000 cash prize for the winner to start up the proposed business in downtown Erwin.

The program was created with assistance from the First Tennessee Development District.

In a prepared statement announcing the program, Lee Brown, general manager of Erwin Utilities and president of the JEDB, said, “The Cool & Connected Downtown Erwin Entrepreneurs Business Grant will enhance the skill sets and ideas of its participants and will help address the need for improved access to broadband internet in Appalachia.”

In other business Monday, Lee asked the board members to review the county’s new Strategic Development Plan to serve as guide for the board going forward.

Based on a survey of the county’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats gathered from local government leaders and the public earlier this year, the plan also identifies short- and long-term goals to be accomplished over the next 20 years.

Engle said the most important thing the board can do is to tie its actions back to the plan’s objectives and to hold him accountable for doing likewise.

Brown said accomplishing the plan’s objectives will require “everybody rowing in the same direction.”

In an update on a Comprehensive Land Use Plan being developed for the county by the FTDD, Planner Corey Osborne said the timeline for the plan’s development has been stepped up from 16 to 12 months due to the time constraints of a $50,000 USDA grant being used to pay for the plan.

Under the new timeline, Osborne said the plan’s development will included a period of public input gathering to be conducted between January and March in advance of an initial presentation and a final input-gathering phase to be completed in June.

In a last matter of business, Lee and Engle told the board members their work to advance the county was being noticed on the local, state and national level.

Lee said Engle, RISE Erwin President Jamie Rice, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital CEO Eric Carroll and three NFS staff members were among eight Unicoi County community members recently included in the Tri-Cities Business Journal’s list of “Top 40 Under 40.”

And Engle said that he and Rice were selected to speak at Appalachian Regional Commission’s annual summit earlier this month in Pittsburgh about downtown development in Erwin and economic development in the county, and that the town’s progress was similarly recognized at this year’s Tennessee Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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