The Treasure Of Unicoi County’s Micro-Economy

It’s A BIG Opportunity For Locating A Small Business

Unicoi County is open for small businesses as the economy rebounds.

The economic power of a county on the border of another state can sometimes be overlooked. Yet, Unicoi County’s unique position between the Asheville, NC, and Tri-Cities, TN, metros and rural Western North Carolina counties makes it a great place to locate a business.

Sometimes termed the Tenn-A-Lina Economy, Unicoi County’s 18,000 population is in the middle of the Tri-Cities, TN market with more than 400,000 people and almost 310,000 people in nearby Avery, Buncombe, Mitchell, and Yancey counties in North Carolina. 

“It’s an ideal location for those looking to open a new business, or expanding their business from elsewhere,” says Lee Brown, Chairman of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County. Here are a few reasons for Brown’s optimism.

I-26 between Charleston, SC and I-81 hosts 17,000 vehicles a day.

Traffic along I-26 linking Charleston, SC to the Tri-Cities TN market and I-81 continues to grow as the pandemic wanes and motorist venture out for shopping, work, and school. It’s worthy to note that I-26 through the county is the portal across the Appalachian Mountains to Carolina beaches during summer months, adding to traffic estimated at more than 17,000 vehicles per day.

This graph from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that traffic on rural highways grew significantly in March 2021 as the pandemic began to wane and motorists took to the roads.

The county is serviced by airports in Blountville, TN and Asheville, NC that offer daily flights by major airlines, each less than an hour from Unicoi County.

“We’re already seeing newfound interest among
small business owners looking to go where
opportunity is moving to.”

Lee Brown
Joint Economic Development
Board of Unicoi County

From white water rafting, the Appalachian Trail, fishing and hunting, Unicoi County’s outdoor tourism offers unique opportunities for related small businesses.

The county is a hotbed of outdoor tourism that has flourished as vaccinations drove down the pandemic. The Appalachian Trail runs throughout the county while the Nolichucky River has been recognized as one of the top 10 whitewater rafting rivers in the world. It’s home to a federal forest and state park. The county’s biggest draw is its beauty, that generates $9 million to the local economy each year. Outfitters, bike shops, and camping, fishing, and hunting-related merchants have an opportunity to tap into the demand that will continue to grow.

The Unicoi County Apple Festival is one of east Tennessee’s top tourism events.

A rejuvenated downtown Erwin is ready for business after a multi- million-dollar investment has created a beautiful setting with refurbished store fronts and easy access to parking. From apparel and specialty stores to restaurants and bars, downtown ready. At exits off I-26, multiple strip center opportunities exist for capturing traffic near retail hubs such as Walmart, Food City supermarket, and the growing Town of Unicoi.

The county is wired with 1Gig fiber with plentiful low-cost electricity from TVA. Great broadband service makes locating a tech or software company in the county an easy proposition. It’s also a draw for remote workers who can access a shared workspace environment at the Joint Economic Development Board’s SquareOne co-working space.

Each day, more than 3,500 go to work in Unicoi County. The county is home to high tech jobs related to naval fuel production, automotive suppliers, and building materials manufacturers. From stops for breakfast and lunch to drop offs at dry cleaners or to grab a haircut, opportunities exist for small business success.

There is also a rebirth of residential construction in the county that will house the significant demand of families moving from population centers due to the pandemic. Tennessee’s relatively low cost of living, no income tax, and advantages in retirement tax laws have swelled the numbers of families and retirees looking for a new home. One new development will see 36 new homes built to supplement an array of stately homes along treelined streets and mountain homes with acreage. Residential building contractors and home improvement small businesses will be busy with opportunities for the foreseeable future.

“The pandemic was a game changer for rural counties that are set in beautiful surroundings,” says Brown. “We’re already seeing newfound interest among small business owners and remote workers looking to go where opportunity is moving to. It’s a great time to take a long hard look at building a business in Unicoi County.”

You can learn more about Unicoi County opportunities by contacting Unicoi County Economic Development.



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