KINGSPORT — Mike Emitte may have retired out West, but he’s not ready to call it quits.
Emitte, 58, moved to Kingsport last July from Oregon, and is now planning to establish a distribution center here for a California company that produces pick-up truck racks.
Eventually, the operation could grow into a major manufacturing facility, bringing new jobs to the region.
“I’m not ready to quit. I’ve had a nice hiatus now of almost two years. It’s time to go back to work,” said Emitte.
Mike and Sherri Emitte knew they were going to relocate from Oregon to the eastern part of the United States to be closer to their children, who had moved to North Carolina. They set out on what would become a 2,300-mile journey across country to find a new home.
“We could live anywhere we wanted to live in the country. We just kept our eyes open, seeing what we liked or didn’t like,” Sherri said.
The couple wanted to live in a beautiful area with a mild climate and low cost of living.
“Neither one of us had ever been to Tennessee before, but looking at the overall tax burden, we decided to take a look,” she said.
“And,” her husband chimed in, “we wanted somewhere pretty. We had lived in the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon. It’s gorgeous. So obviously, we didn’t want to step down a notch. We wanted to live somewhere we thought was beautiful.”
Taking scenic beauty, climate and cost of living into account, the Emittes were limited in their search.
“It really starts to narrow your gap when you start putting certain criteria into it,” Mike said.
The couple started thinking their new home would be in Asheville, Knoxville, or Nashville.
In Asheville, they came close to buying a home, but “something was just gnawing on me,” Mike said.
Then they turned to Knoxville. “I really thought Knoxville was going to be it. And it just wasn’t,” he said.
Then they spent a week in Nashville, “and it just wasn’t right,” Mike said.
“Part of our decision-making process — we’re both Christians, and we knew the Lord was going to show us where. We just didn’t know where. And in our hearts, nothing was really clicking,” he said.
The Emittes finally made their way into the Tri-Cities. “And we just knew it was right,” Mike said. “We knew we’d found home.”
Now they had to further narrow their focus and pick a community within the region.
“We actually thought we were going to live in Johnson City, but as we started looking at the real estate in all the areas, something just kept drawing us to Kingsport,” Mike said.
The couple started touring houses in Kingsport, and found a large contemporary in the Ridgefields community of town.
“It sold us,” Mike said.
“The thing is,” Sherri said, “you could not buy this house in Oregon or California for even twice what we paid for it — even close to three times what we paid for it.”
“And it’s beautiful here,” Mike said.
Since moving in July, the couple has continued to do some traveling up the East Coast, and they’re remodeling their new house.
And they’re getting used to life in the South.
“The one thing that really struck us — the people are so friendly,” Sherri said. “When we first came here, people would come up and start talking to us. We would look at each other like, OK, here’s a crazy person, because the only people who would come up and talk to you in the West are crazy people. And then it happened again, and again. And we thought they all can’t be crazy.
“Finally I figured it out — people come up and just talk to you. It’s just an amazing thing,” Sherri said.
Sherri is a certified public accountant and has worked in city administration. In Kingsport, she said she’ll “take some time off for a while.”
But not Mike. About a month ago, he contacted an old friend in California who operates a truck rack manufacturing facility. That business has been limited in territory to the West Coast. And Mike told his friend he could expand the business east, and base the operation out of Kingsport.
“I said let’s put in a distribution point first, and get the dealer network set up, and then we can look at a manufacturing facility” in the future, Mike said.
Today, Mike is searching for a warehouse in the Kingsport area to establish the distribution center. And he’s already making contacts in the industry. He recently attended a show in Las Vegas that featured 12,000 exhibitors in truck accessories.
“We needed to be there to tell people we’re coming east,” he said.
He said the next big show is scheduled for late February in Atlanta, and he plans to be ready, with a warehouse chock full of truck racks.
“We will have the warehouse up and running and will be soliciting dealers in the East. We’ll be ready to deliver,” Mike said. “We want to be ready to go.”
Life in Kingsport
The Emittes are settling into their newly adopted community. They enjoyed participating in Fun Fest in July, particularly Mardi Gras in downtown Kingsport.
“She had me catching beads for her,” Mike said of his wife. “It’s not high tech. It’s just old-fashioned fun. That was really cool.”
They’ve also enjoyed attending local gospel concerts. And they said they’re pleasantly surprised at the display of traditional Christian values in the region — even in businesses.
“We were buying a mattress and the man showing us the mattress finds out we just moved here from Oregon, and the next words out of his mouth — ‘Have you found a church yet?’ Business owners in the West — that would be a risk for them,” Mike said.
Even businesses playing Christian music over their intercoms is something you wouldn’t hear out West, Mike said.
“We come here, and all kinds of businesses are playing Christian music,” he said.
Sherri said she’s impressed by Kingsport city officials and their ability to “get things done.”
“Now I see there are differences of opinions about whether that’s the right thing to do or not, and that’s fine for discussion. But they’re actually getting things done. And that’s why all these good things are happening,” Sherri said.
Asked what they like most about Kingsport, and the couple agreed: “It’s the package,” Mike said.
“What we’ve found is a package of this area. This area is very conducive to you wanting to belong — not just to live here, but to be part of the community,” he said.