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Economic growth potential accelerating in Unicoi County

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jun 26, 2019 at 10:05 PM

ERWIN — The pace of economic development is picking up in Unicoi County.

Wednesday’s quarterly meeting of the county’s Joint Economic Development Board included several encouraging updates on industrial, commercial and residential projects and board President Lee Brown’s observation that the county’s growth potential is better now than it has been at any time in recent memory.

Executive Director Tyler Engle highlighted progress being made in three primary areas of development, beginning with pad-ready site preparations nearing completion at the former Morgan industrial property on Second Street.

Most recently, Engle said, the 150,000 square-foot pad-ready site has been leveled and will soon be complete with a fine gravel covering, all utility hookups and rail access in place with adjacent access to the interstate and to the Erwin Linear Trail.

Engle said the development board is working with a German recruiter who has toured the site several times, and who will distribute informational packages to other site selectors as soon as the prep work is complete.

“We look forward to the economic energy it’s going to bring to the county and we look forward to the new jobs and family income jobs it will bring,” he said.

To help county employers “attract the kind of employees they want” in an area where available residential properties is “bound up, constricted and tight,” Engle said the county was one of six communities nationwide invited to take part in a workforce housing seminar conducted by Smart Growth America.

Brown said, “We were selected for that because they know we are a community that will take action. It’s not just another study.”

Erwin Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff confirmed work toward residential development is being accomplished, saying, “These conversations are really happening. Developers and Realtors are intelligently working to figure out our infrastructure and going out and showing properties.”

After the meeting, Engle confirmed to the Johnson City Press the board has had several conversations with the city of Johnson City about a plan for residential development of the former Buffalo Valley Golf Course, and is waiting for the city to complete its proposed environmental projects on the property and make a decision.

For commercial growth, Engle said the JEDB is actively recruiting five national businesses, including a mix of restaurants, quick services and retailers that were among more than a dozen identified as good matches for the community in a recent study of the county’s retail growth potential.

“We chose five because five was doable in a year,” he said.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said a new urgent care practice has completed construction of its building on North Main Avenue and Rosenoff said the town recently approved designs for a new restaurant opening in the former Sonic Drive-in property downtown.

Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership CEO Mitch Miller told the board occupation of the pad-ready industrial site on Second Street can be expected to happen soon and noted Unicoi County’s industrial base already places the county’s weekly wage at the second-highest in the region behind Sullivan County.  “A lot of those workers come to Unicoi County from other places in the region and believe me they spend a lot of money.”

Looking at the overall picture, Brown said, “The parks are being developed and that will go on for a couple of years. The industrial site will soon be ready. Retail development is starting to happen.” And Erwin Fiber is continuing its one-gig internet service buildout into Buffalo Valley and Limestone Cove.

“With all that is happening, there has never been a time like this that I can remember. It is the best it has ever been in my memory,” he said. “But we have to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep moving forward.”

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