County, Chamber Partnership Brings State Grant Success

Union County Chamber

A partnership between Union County government and the Union County Chamber of Commerce has reaped rewards this summer. In April, Union County Mayor Mike Williams' office and the Chamber applied for an asset enhancement grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic Development, a grant program aimed at helping counties identified as "distressed" by high unemployment rates, low per capita incomes and other factors.

Twenty grants were awarded, and each county could apply for up to $50,000. Nearby, Campbell and Claiborne counties were also awarded grants. The grant recipients were announced in early June 2017.

According to interim Chamber president Thomas Skibinski, the Chamber will use the bulk of Union County's grant award to hire a marketing firm to create a professional branding and marketing plan for Union County, including logos and digital platforms for marketing towards tourism, business relocation and potential residents.

"There seems to have been several attempts at branding over the years, and things have kind of stopped and started," said Skibinski. "We want to select the strongest parts of Union County and have that be the focus and just keep building on top of one single message."

The Mayor's office will use $12,000 for improvements to Wilson Park so it can be better used as an event venue. Williams said sound equipment has already been purchased from at a good price, including speakers, control panel and cables. They're still pricing wireless speakers that could be placed around the park. Williams also met with KUB about lighting upgrades at the park, including moving some light poles to create more usable space, upgrading to LED lights, and adding lights in the back half of the park behind the pavilion.

"I spoke with (KUB's Ed Medford), and he's seeing that park being used more and more," said Williams. "But it's still underutilized. It's got a good, central location and plenty of parking."

Williams hopes to have all upgrades in place in time for Thunder in the Park, a music and fireworks festival set for Sept. 2, in Wilson Park.

Williams and Skibinski attribute the grant award to the partnership between county and Chamber, and Williams said lack of partnership with other organizations could have pushed the county over the top on grants they missed in the past.

"Anytime you can do something in partnership with another group, I think you feel more inclusive, and I think you've got more activity," Williams said. "We've been close on a couple, but you learn more from losing than you do winning. Sometimes it was the participation aspect. They want to see involvement from other local entities."

Skibinski agreed, saying, "If everyone can agree, it's easier to get to the end goal of increasing tax revenue without raising taxes. When everyone works together, outcomes are better. I'm very much excited to be working with the county on all this. It's a great opportunity to really get the ball rolling."