Retail growth

By Thomas Wilson

   Whether indicating the reality of a service-based economy model or defying recent exodus of industrial employers, Elizabethton is experiencing a significant growth of retail development.
   While the Wal-Mart Supercenter and Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse developments are turning earth and heads around town, two new retail stores are moving forward to locate in the newly named Elk Crossing shopping center on West Elk Avenue. Mike Nidiffer, of Interstate Realty & Development that owns the shopping center told the Star last week Fred's Discount Store and Silver Dollar were two tenants expected to open their doors in shopping center later this year.
   Nidiffer told the Star earlier this month that two retailers could create up to 50 new jobs for the local economy. Fred's is expected to open before Christmas, he added.
   Interstate Realty and Development paid $1.9 million to purchase the former Bemberg Shopping Center building and its accompanying 13.28-acre property on West Elk Avenue in October. The company has been renovating vacant space for possible retailers.
   Elizabethton city government officials and Interstate are waiting to hear from the state transportation officials regarding the installation of a new traffic signal at the shopping center's main entrance on West Elk Avenue. The company offered to fund the cost and installation of the signal if the Tennessee Department of Transportation decides traffic patterns.
   At least three vacant spaces remain available at Elk Crossing for new businesses.
   The new Wal-Mart superstore will relocate the store's existing workforce and add up to 100 new positions according to earlier estimates. The 205,000 square-foot building is tentatively expected to open in October.
   Grading work is underway on 16 acres of land at the end of Wallace Avenue to make room for the Lowe's store. The home-improvement superstore could employ up to 100 workers and create up to 150 local jobs.
   The Food City supermarket on Broad Street is undergoing a major expansion to a superstore facility. K-VA-T Food Stores that own Food City supermarket chain expect to add 50 new positions at the location.
   The county received good news about local employment levels last week. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development's monthly employment report released Thursday found the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May 2004 of 4.8 percent, down from the April revised rate of 4.9 percent, was released on June 17.
   The report's most eye-catching figure for the local economy found Carter County's unemployment rate dipped one-half percent from 5.7 percent in April to 5.2 percent in May.
   The report noted unemployment rates for nine counties increased and 86 counties decreased during May. Knox County had the state's lowest major metropolitan county rate at 2.5 percent, down from 2.6 in April. Hamilton County was 3.3 percent, down from 3.7 in April. Davidson County was 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 percent in April, and Shelby County was 5.2 percent, down from 5.5 percent.
   (Staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this story.)