Oneonta approves liquor licenses, hires workers, discusses career services center

Following public hearings prior to their regular council meeting, members approved alcohol license requests for two Oneonta businesses. Nico’s Supermarket, operating as El Valle on First Avenue East, will offer beer and wine for off-premises consumption. Legends Sofa Bar, LLC, at 106 6th Street South, will provide onsite consumption within the city’s ordinance parameters which require such retailers to have food sales of at least 70 percent of total revenue.

Councilman Richard Phillips asked how to alter the city’s food consumption percentage requirement. City manager-economic developer Ed Lowe advised that the ordinance requirement could be changed by another ordinance.

In other action, members approved declaring some 8.1 acres of land in the industrial park as surplus and deeding that to KWATS Property, LLC, for $150,000. That transfer will permit the relocation and expansion of a present Cleveland business to Oneonta.

In personnel moves, the council hired Stephanie Gonzalez as its new full-time police secretary and UCR clerk. Members also added APOST-certified Christopher Eugene Goodwin as a part-time police officer.

Following regular council actions, Mayor Ross Norris asked to adjourn for an informational session with members of the Blount County Economic Development Council (BCEDC) directed, primarily, toward possible future construction of a career services center. Members of the economic council had previously sought a council commitment for such construction.

Original plans for the Wallace State main building had included space for economic development offices and possible job training. BCEDC director Don Mitchell spoke of a $500,000 investment on the city’s part. Councilor Tonya Rogers expressed some frustration over her perception of the project.

Mitchell and others have contended that the most valuable asset the area has is its workforce ethic. His supporters agree that Blount Countians need skills and training for modern and changing worker profiles. Rogers appeared to question the use of local funds to train individuals who, she believes, will leave the area once they obtain those skills.

Rogers lamented, “We don’t have the industries. I’m not seeing the industry coming. We need the jobs. The economic development we need is businesses brought in. I’m a numbers person, too. [A reference to BCEDC employee Lisa Baker’s earlier self-characterization.] How many businesses have been brought to Oneonta and Blount County during the last three and a half years?”

Baker replied, “I can tell you that 300 jobs were brought in or saved in the county during that time.” Baker’s general thrust contended that most jobs available to Blount County are from recruited small industries or from expanding ones already in the county.

Mitchell asserted, “I think the biggest drawback we have is land.” He elaborated that most potential clients tell him they need a minimum of 80 acres of land. Few places in the county have that readily available for industry.

Rogers spoke of the county’s deficit of interstate highway accessibility. Fellow councilor Danny Robinson noted the Hayden area does have that. Mitchell contended that he has assurances from Congressman Robert Aderholt of the completed four-laning of U.S. 278 through the county. That would offer connection for Blount County to interstates 65 and 59. With that possibility, the county could be in line for suppliers to the planned $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda plant in Huntsville.

Returning to the career services center, advocates urged the city to invest there and lay the groundwork to assure employee training. Asked by Phillips how this would operate, Mitchell replied, “We normally let industry drive that. We let employers tell us what they need and attempt to pair that with others to obtain available state, federal, and employer financing for training.”

Going further, Mitchell added, “There is a real gap in Blount County between what is available and what is needed (in terms of job skills).” He speculated, “I’m thinking it will be self-sustaining and actually a revenue maker.”

Lowe and Mitchell noted their desires to keep building costs at no more than $500,000. Lowe and city attorney Alex Smith advised that staying under that figure would exempt the project from several restraining legal requirements.

Smith had said that the project cannot be built for that figure. He and others are exploring ways to frame and shell to stay within the figure and find other avenues for finishing and furnishing the building.

Norris asked that the BCEDC keep the city informed on its efforts and progress and plan other joint meetings as they examine the possible center.

Councilman Nathaniel Butler and Hal Blackwood joined members Norris, Phillips, Rogers, and Robinson for the Tuesday, Nov. 27, meetings. The council holds its regular sessions the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 5:30 p.m. in city hall.