At the Nov. 16 meeting of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Alderman, Mayor Johnny Lynch said NN Inc. has expressed interest in replacing its Erwin ball bearing manufacturing plant on Tennessee Road near Unicoi County High School with a new facility with better access near an interstate.
Locally, Lynch said the search was narrowed to two properties, one just outside Erwin bordered by Zane Whitson Drive and Dry Creek Road, and one in Johnson City off Boones Creek Road.
“They want it to be model building for their business, something they can show others in their industry with visibility from the interstate,” Lynch said.
Lynch said it is his understanding the new facility will initially employ about the same number of workers as its existing plant in Erwin and possibly more in the future.
Repeated calls to two of NN Inc.’s executives were unanswered last week.
The 20.9-acre Dry Creek Road property, near the Tinker Road exit of Interstate 26, is currently under option by the county’s economic development board. The board sought the option on the land in 2014 to help recruit industrial business to Unicoi County.
Railroad tracks running along the property’s western edge intersect with Dry Creek Road, causing a hump that could present an obstacle for tractor trailer trucks. Lynch said the development board is looking for ways to deal with the access problems and is building an incentive package in hopes of convincing NN to stay in the county.
In neighboring Washington County, Mayor Dan Eldridge said he believes it’s NN’s executives’ intentions to “exhaust all options in Unicoi County before looking elsewhere.”
Eldridge, who also chairs a state rural transportation planning board, said he recently wrote a letter to the Tennessee Department of Transportation urging the agency to help accommodate NN’s plans for the Dry Creek site.
“To my knowledge, NN has not made a decision on what to do,” he said. “Obviously, the state is going to be a big part of the final product, so I wrote the letter to let them know it’s something we support.”
The company’s other local option for relocation, which Unicoi Alderman Doug Hopson said is the propery known as the Young Farm, off Interstate 26’s Boones Creek Road exit, is within Eldridge’s territory.
The more than 100-acre site was originally marketed for retail development by the Washington County Economic Development Council, which held the option on the property until last month, when the council’s board transferred the option to private real estate developer Mitch Cox Companies.
Upon receiving the transfer of the option, the company’s CEO, Mitch Cox, said he still intended to market the property to retail developers. Emails seeking comment from the company were not returned last week.
Eldridge said Washington County fully supports Unicoi County’s efforts to keep the manufacturer in the county, but he doesn’t “believe Unicoi County or Washington County wants to see this opportunity leave the region.”
NN Inc. expanded its corporate headquarters in Johnson City in July of last year, receiving state and local incentives for job creation and retention.
The company has been on an aggressive expansion track, buying several existing manufacturing companies and facilities over the past year. Two weeks ago, its corporate communications department announced the pending opening of a new manufacturing facility in Mexico.
NN holds several US and global facilities, including the Erwin location and one in Mountain City.