Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham briefed members of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce on the economic and business health of the county this week and had some encouraging news for those in attendance. The mayor said Blount County is surviving the current economic crisis, has improved its ranking as a tourist destination and is continuing to recruit suppliers to Blount County to service the Volkswagen plant coming to the Chattanooga area.
Mayor Cunningham pointed to several areas where county officials are working hard and spoke of how those efforts are paying off.
The mayor said the county is surviving in the midst of tough economic times because of good financial management. “We’re not struggling yet, but we could be struggling if the economy does not return,” he said. “I think we’ve bottomed out, and I think it’s going to return.”
On the tourism front, the mayor said that for every $1 spent on marketing for tourism, there is a return of $21. This works out to about $756,000 spent by visitors to the county each day, he said. “Historically Blount County has been ranked seventh in the state in tourism,” he said. “We’ve moved up to sixth.”
In industrial development, the mayor pointed out that Rubbermaid added the Sharpie Division to its Maryville plant, creating 150 jobs.
Cunningham said Brian Daniels, vice president of the Industrial Development Board, recently represented Blount County when he traveled to Germany to speak with VW suppliers. VW historically likes for suppliers to be located within 100 miles of their plants, and the Industrial Development Board is working to recruit suppliers to locate in Blount County to service the VW plant when it becomes operational. “Fortunately, most of Blount County is within that 100-mile range,” the mayor said.
Cunningham said the Industrial Development Board also has been strongly advising the Tennessee Valley Authority to negotiate a favorable power contract with Alcoa, Inc. Pot lines for making sheet aluminum have been idled since March, and the mayor said he wants TVA to negotiate a favorable contract so that when market conditions improve, the Blount County pot lines can be reopened.
“I worry about what happens if these pot lines don’t reopen. It bewilders me when Alcoa can go to New York and buy power cheaper than in Tennessee,” he said.
The mayor said he’s very pleased with the progress of the Pellissippi Place research and development park. The site will have retail, research and development businesses and residential living. “This is one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on since being mayor,” he said.
The mayor said the county is working hard to have good planning for future development. After more than a year of work, a draft set of regulations regarding ridge top development has been sent for legal review. Such efforts help preserve the green spaces, protect the environment and help tourism, the mayor said.
Cunningham said he is excited about a new push to restore Laurel Lake in Townsend. The lake, which was fed by five streams, was drained when the dam was breached in the early 1990s. The Civilian Conservation Corp created the lake when they built the dam there in the 1930s. The mayor said he never understood why it was drained but was glad when a group of residents began raising money to clear the lake bed and pursue getting the dam repaired.
“I swam there, and when I was getting ready for the Marine Corps, I trained there,” he said. “It was a beautiful asset.”
The mayor said there are no plans to ever commercially or residentially develop the property surrounding where the lake would be. “The plans is for it to be a park to be enjoyed by the 120,000 people who own it,” he said. “This could be a wonderful thing for the citizens of Blount County and for tourists in Townsend.”