Regal officials recently announced that its Erwin plant will close by September 2020. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

September 2020 will mark an end to an era in Unicoi County.

According to a statement released last week by Vice President of Business Development & Investor Relations Rob Cherry, Regal Beloit, formerly Morrill Motors, will close its Unicoi County facility by that date.

“Regal Climate Solutions is in the process of restructuring its business to proactively position the company for long-term success,” Cherry said. “Following an extensive review, the Climate business has decided to close its Erwin facility and will either transfer the production to other company facilities or outsource it. The transfer and outsourcing of work will take place over the next 12 months and is expected to be completed by September 2020. We are committed to working closely with our associates and customers throughout this process to minimize disruption or personal impact and to ensure a successful transition.”

Regal Beloit purchased Morrill Motors in 2007. Morrill Motors was founded in 1946, by Wayne J. Morrill and has been manufacturing small appliance motors in Erwin for close to 73 years.

This move impacts more than 125 jobs in Unicoi County.

“This will impact our region tremendously; it will definitely cause an impact in our economy for sure,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said. “We were shocked to see Regal leave and we hate to see them go, but that is part of business.”

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch agrees with Hensley.

“This is definitely sad news,” Lynch said. “We rebounded when the railroad left town, we will rebound from this too. We just have to keep on, keeping on and bring more industry into this area.”

CSX, another large employer in Unicoi County, announced the closing of its Erwin terminal in October 2015.

According to Hensley, the move motivates Erwin to work harder with the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board to find more industry to bring into Unicoi County.

“This means that we have to get with the economic development board. We have to support them more and to step up our efforts to recruit industry into Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “Once we are able to contact potential businesses that would be interested in coming here we will. That way when Regal moves out a new industry can move in. That would be the best scenario for everyone.”

Hensley acknowledged that Erwin is already home to prime real estate to bring good-paying jobs back to the area with the pad-ready site at the former Morgan Insulation location.

“We think that once it gets out that we have 150,000 square feet of pad-ready property that is adjacent to the railroad and interstate accessible, that we will have activity on it,” Hensley said.

According to Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board Executive Director Tyler Engle, the former Morgan Insulation site is getting some inquiries.

“We have had lots of positive interests. We are in the process of updating the listing on TVA’s site. We really are just being very aggressive with recruiting,” Engle said. “As for the Regal location, we will work with everyone. Right now there are a lot of moving parts and until they are gone, we really can’t commit to another industry there. We are hopeful that we can have an industry come in after they are gone, but we want to focus on those Regal employees and make sure that they are taken care of, first and foremost.”

For Hensley, it is important to think of the employees that may be going through a transition at this time.

“I can only imagine how stressful it must be for those employees, but we want them to know that we are here for them,” Hensley said. “We will offer some retraining, and we have heard from several businesses in the area that would be willing to hire some of these employees. That is one thing about this region – we are very supportive of each other.”

According to Engle, the move to pull out of Unicoi County by Regal has generated support for the employees from within the region.

“Our communities are coming together to rally, just look at what Clinchfield Federal Credit Union and their CEO Sandy Lingerfelt are doing for employees of Regal – they will be offering restructuring for folks that have had a change in employment status,” Engle said. “The Joint Economic Development Board will be working with the Department of Labor Workforce Development as well as with Tennessee Economic and Community Development that these employees are retrained and reskilled to ensure they have every opportunity to continue their careers.”

For those employees who may be in transition and are looking for resources, please contact the Unicoi County Joint Economic Board at 743-9555.