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Eldridge looking to buy more land for economic development

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge is looking for some good chunks of land – at least 300 to 500 acres to be exact. But in order to acquire the acreage, he is also in need of a good chunk of change.
Eldridge said it is his immediate priority to identify and acquire land for new economic development and that he is “pulling out all the stops” to fill what he calls a “crucial need.”
“Washington County has been described as the ‘crown jewel’ of Northeast Tennessee, but we have nothing to sell,” he said. “We only control 21 acres of unused land in all of Washington County.”
While the obvious place to look is adjacent to the current Industrial Park where there are 106 acres available, Eldridge said he is also looking at other areas of the county.
“We need land in close proximity to the infrastructure – highways, utilities and the like,” he said. “We also need for it to have good topography.”
Eldridge said he is aware of a substantial amount of acreage throughout the county that fits the criteria.
“The problem is, when a prospect comes to our area, they want to look at a specific opportunity,” he said. “They don’t come as a sightseer. They want to see what we have to offer. Right now we have very little.”
Eldridge made reference to a conversation he had recently with TVA Economic Development Director Tommy Olterman.
“Olterman told me Washington County is ‘our showcase,’ but that we’re ‘selling out of an empty wagon.’”
Eldridge said he has spent the last eight weeks really focused on getting engaged in all of the economic development organizations, listing the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Regional Alliance for Economic Development as two of his major contacts. He is also working to make contacts and create partnerships with neighboring counties.
“If we work together to bring new industry to the area, we could spread the investment,” Eldridge said. “And we would share the rewards. Our job is to grow jobs, and we all win when we do that.”
Eldridge said he is investigating ways to free up funding for the land acquisitions, including renegotiating interest rates on debt offerings, seeking federal economic development funds and getting assistance from TVA programs.
“If there’s a federal program out there, I want to know about it,” Eldridge said. “The federal government is spending money like crazy. If they’re going to continue doing that, I want to see Washington County get its fair share.”