A new state program designed to spur economic development in rural communities has local officials excited about the potential to draw new industry to the western portion of Carter County. The county’s top economic and industrial development official discussed the program with members of Carter County Tomorrow during a Monday evening meeting at the chamber of commerce.
Carter County Tomorrow President Tom Anderson said the new program, which is titled “Select Tennessee,” is designed to provide state assistance to rural communities that have already identified certified industrial sites. “What the state is doing through this program is allowing places like Carter County to have a certified site for potential development. A certified site means you meet certain criteria and it makes it much easier for a company to choose a location and build a building,” said Anderson.
When a potential property has been labeled as a certified site, Anderson commented that a geo-technical and archaeological surveying, along with other requirements, have already been met. While most locations that have met the certified site requirements in Western Tennessee are no smaller than 100 acres, Anderson stated it can be difficult to find a piece of land that large in a rural community without leveling a mountain or using fill material in a valley.
With considerations for terrain in mind, Anderson said those numbers have been scaled down to a requirement of 20 acres. While the state does not require the property to be “pad ready,” it must meet the standards to be developed. He added, “We actually have a site already in mind for this near the Okolona Road exit. It is currently in private hands. The state does require a local government to control the property and the whole tract of land has to fall within that municipality for it to be certified.”
Once Anderson is able to finalize certain details on the “Select Tennessee” program, along with information on the property, he believes Carter County Tomorrow should draft a letter of intent to the State of Tennessee regarding their interest in developing the parcel. The next step in the process would entail site selectors representing the state coming to review the property.
The potential location being considered already has many of the attributes necessary to attract industrial development. Anderson explained that the necessary infrastructure, including water, sewer, electric and optic cable, is already in place. The property’s location near Interstate 26 and a rail line are other potential draws for industrial development.
Anderson acknowledged that time is of the essence should the county wish to pursue the project through “Select Tennessee.” He cautioned that the deadline for applying for state consideration is the end of August.
If the county is successful in securing the land and the application process for the state program, Anderson said “Select Tennessee” would assist the local government in marketing the property to any potential investors.
The effort to attract a mid-to-upper-level hotel to Elizabethton and Carter County is continuing to generate positive results. Anderson said he and officials with the city and county recently met with a Knoxville-based hotel developer about the possibility of constructing a new hotel in the community. The unnamed company has begun to look at potential locations for the proposed project. Anderson added that CCT is assisting the developer in drafting a prospectus and other pertinent information on the economic impact of a hotel.
Anderson commented, “This is a Tennessee company. They are based in the region and are not that far away from us. They also own a large number of hotels in Tennessee. They are very well-regarded by the Marriott Corporation, Hilton Hotels and Holiday Inn. Not only that, but they were very impressed with the development currently going on in our community.”
Discussions on the proposed hotel development have been taking place on a weekly basis for the last couple of months. As the project continues to gain momentum, Anderson said he expects those discussions to move to a daily basis in the coming weeks.
In other business, the Roan Mountain Sewer Project has returned to the forefront of discussion. County officials have identified a potential model in the region from which to draw a plan for the Roan Mountain community. Anderson said a central sewer system concept being used in the Hawkins County community of Surgoinsville would also work in Roan Mountain. “We have very good numbers to work with and to develop a way to do this,” he noted. “The first phase would include the central business district and a few houses. Primarily, it would be for commercial.”
The scalable sewer concept would allow for future growth and upgrades to the system while making the cost of constructing and operating the system more manageable than previous models.
Anderson also commented that the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce is preparing to seek a new director after last month’s departure of Felicia English. He said the chamber’s leadership will be placing an ad in the Elizabethton STAR by the beginning of next week to advertise the vacant position. In the next week, the chamber will draft a job description for the director’s job, along with the benefits package. Anderson said they will take the opportunity to redefine the skills and abilities that they are seeking in the next director.
A timetable for when the chamber of commerce expects to have the director in place was not discussed at Monday’s CCT meeting.
In other business, Carter County Tourism Director Annika Hampton provided CCT members with a final report on the 2012 Covered Bridge Festival. Hampton noted that this year’s edition of the annual celebration was one of the most successful in the festival’s history. She added that the three-day event unofficially drew the largest numbers since its inception. Initial estimates for attendance place the total number of visitors to Downtown Elizabethton at 18,000.
With this year’s Covered Bridge Festival in the books, Hampton said organizers are already looking ahead to 2013. One area that will be addressed in the coming weeks is the date of the event. Hampton said a scheduling conflict may occur between the Elizabethton celebration and Johnson City’s Blue Plum Festival. A final decision on setting the date will be made in the next few months.