ERWIN — Unicoi County officials don’t expect it to be too much longer until someone is hired to serve as the county’s Director of Community Outreach and Economic Development, a position that is the result of a partnership between the county’s Economic Development Board and East Tennessee State University, hits the the ground running.
Officials also want to ensure that whoever is brought in has plenty to keep them busy.
At Friday morning’s meeting of the Executive Committee of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County, board members present discussed several areas of focus for the economic development specialist.
“This is going to be a full-time job for this person in this county, and this is a wonderful chance to move our development forward in all areas, whether it be industrial development, tourism, commercial business, whatever it might be,” Unicoi Town Recorder Larry Rea said.
Erwin Utilities General Manager Lee Brown said the first thing he would like to see the person hired concentrate his or her efforts on is compiling a database of available property in the county that the board could at least get a starting price on.
“So if somebody comes by and they want to locate a fast food restaurant immediately, the response could be ‘We have these parcels available, these are the owners who will be glad to help you, contact them,’ ” Brown said.
Rea said he has been in discussions with representatives at the First Tennessee Development District, and that he has been advised software and information is available and that a website containing the information Brown discussed could be started and attached to the county’s official website.
“Once we get this database of information, it’s going to go on the Web almost immediately,” Rea said. “This person could be the one to keep that updated on a daily, weekly, basis, whatever necessary.”
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the economic development specialist could also assist in getting the county’s three governmental bodies “on the same page” on economic issues to enhance cooperation. He is concerned that opportunities may be lost due to a “territorial” mindset.
“We’re hoping that this person can get some sort of cooperation, some sort of partnership amongst us where we’re all kind of on the same page and we don’t hit a brick wall when we’re going after a project and someone’s just not willing to cooperate with us from within,” Lynch said.
Brown said he would like to see the specialist develop a strategic plan for all of the county’s economic development efforts, whether they be commercial, industrial or tourism. Brown also said the person hired should look at how Unicoi County can take advantage of developments occurring in neighboring areas, such as the recent announcements of Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s stores that will be located in Bristol.
“I think it’s important for us to keep our eyes on what’s happening in Bristol and how can we capitalize on what’s going to develop over there and not sit here and just watch them go down the interstate on their way to Bass Pro and Cabela’s,” Brown said. “How can we put together a plan to draw on what’s going on with our neighbors, and I think there’s opportunities there.”
Unicoi County Economic Development Director Doris Hensley said members of the county’s economic development board should also sit down with the specialist and outline what types of incentives, such as tax breaks, the county is willing to offer prospective businesses. She also said work should be done to develop a list of what types of businesses and industries Unicoi County officials would want in the county.
Earlier this summer, Dr. Robert Leger, Assistant Vice President of ETSU’s Community Outreach program, gave a presentation before the Economic Development Board regarding a partnership between the board and the university. This partnership would see a full-time Director of Community Outreach and Economic Development, a position funded by the college for the first three years, brought into Unicoi County to help bolster local economic development.
Leger said Friday the university had previously partnered with Johnson County under a similar proposal in the late 1990s, and that the program proved to be successful there.
“We just thought we’d try to do the same thing in Unicoi County,” he said.
Leger said the economic development specialist could remain in the county longer than the three years proposed, depending on what the county wants. Through the partnership, Unicoi County will have access to ETSU resources, such as its business department and Small Business Development Center, and that the specialist hired will work closely with the county’s economic development board to ensure that requests for proposal packages from prospective businesses can quickly be responded to.
Officials hope to have the economic development specialist hired and in place by mid-October.