Updates in abundance for county economic board

Published 8:49 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Carter County and Elizabethton will be busy in the coming months to address economic development in the region.
That was the tone set during Tuesday’s Carter County Joint Economic and Community Development Board meeting as attendees heard updates on a variety of projects going on locally.
Tuesday’s meeting was led by vice-chairman Rusty Barnett.
One of the projects spearheaded by the board was a hotel feasibility study that has netted high marks since its completion, according to Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey.
The mayor praised the efforts of board member Rob Toney, director of Elizabethton Electric System, for helping the study get finalized and stated the ability to bring a hotel into the region is “moving in the right direction.”
Humphrey added the county has been in contact with developers of one chain of hotels and that there is real potential a new facility could have a contract in place by early next year, or before.
Susan Robinson, Economic and Community Develop director from the Mayor’s Office, added the feasibility study and the county being a tourist-friendly location has showcased a need for at least two to three hotels, citing Roan Mountain State Park being a popular attraction that regularly sees their cabins sold out year-round.
Updates were also provided on the county’s recent strand of grants. Robinson, who serves as the county’s Three Star coordinator, explained the recent $25,000 award would be moved to the First Tennessee Development District due to the award money being allocated to help the county achieve status as an ACT Work Ready Community.
Already in the process of achieving the designation, the county will see a return on the money with funds going to the NCRC tests and help to establish the curriculum to help residents achieve their necessary certificates.
To garner status as an ACT Work Ready Community, Robinson added there are benchmarks to hit, including the county having 480 residents receive NCRC certification.
Lottie Ryans, executive director with the First Tennessee Development District, explained the process of Work Ready Communities – adding regional businesses, like Eastman, are already implementing measures to see their employees either have their NCRC before being hired or given preferential treatment to those that have acquired their certifications.
Establishing the county as a Work Ready Community will be a key economic driver, according to Ryans, as the county and city school districts have already voted to give their students an opportunity to capture the NCRC.
Ryans added that Carter County can be one of the first counties to be recognized in the FTDD as a Work Ready Community.
Another critical component for development is the county’s recent ability to recognize adventure tourism districts. After receiving the OK, Ken Gough, county Parks and Recreation director, added there are now seven districts within the county. An adventure tourism district allows businesses to receive tax benefits.
The designation has also gone a long way in courting possible studies to establish a hotel in the county, Robinson added.
A site development grant worth $1 million is also on the radar for the county. Humphrey told board members that a request to the County Commission would be made to begin the process of applying for a Rural Economic Development grant. Humphrey and Robinson both alluded to the fact that both county and city can apply for the subsidy, with one government entity per application, but work collaboratively to address industrial needs.
While eight locations went through the state’s PEP program, the consensus was that, if awarded, the grant could benefit the development of the Matheson Property (located off US 19E).
Applying for the grant will be beneficial, according to Mitch Miller with the NETREP – a regional economic partnership comprised of surrounding counties.
Miller added Washington County was able to receive the grant to help bulk up the industrial park that has reaped the rewards over the years.
Humphrey also praised the efforts of citizen-driven organizations supporting within the county, citing the Elizabethton IDEAS Group, River APEs, and Carter County Proud. The IDEAS Group, River APEs, and county Parks & Rec were able to help set up a boat landing located across the road from Hampton High School. Gough added the attraction should be ready to roll in the fall and will contribute to attract tourists due to the county’s notoriety for whitewater adventures.
Caroline Hurt, director of the Carter County Health Department, added construction at the facility is on track. Construction will include a total of 12 new rooms and the department being connected to help with traffic coming in.

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