Bringing economic development and new industries to an area is a team effort, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce’s Doug Berry said during a presentation to local business people Thursday.
Berry, who serves as the Chamber’s vice president of economic development, kicked off the organization’s new “Food for Thought” program that will meet quarterly.
Bringing new industries to the area is accomplished by “selling” the region to potential investors and then selling a specific location, Berry said.
The Thrive 2055 collaborative, made up of 16 counties in three states, is trying to do just that.
Berry said the goal was to “increase quality of life” for residents of all 16 counties.
This includes higher wages for citizens. Successful economic development also “generates more tax revenue,” Berry said.
Berry also studies how much revenue a piece of land is generating in its current use and what it might generate if the land was used for something else, such as a commercial industry.
“We do see a need to continue to support entrepreneurship,” Berry said.
The group is studying similar groups in other areas to develop their strategy. By coming together as a collaborative, competition between the members is eliminated.
He said progress that has been made in Chattanooga to turn it into a more desirable business location is also being studied.
“We as a region need to capitalize on that, and I do. When I am dealing with projects in Cleveland and Bradley County, I am selling Chattanooga and locating (the businesses) in Bradley County,” Berry said.
He said European business leaders are often more used to a city like Chattanooga rather than Cleveland.
As government funding at the federal level decreases, economic development councils will have to develop new ways of funding their efforts, he said.
Local governments need to focus on the future rather than the past, Berry said.
“There are revenues being lost by focusing on the past. We can make the money up if we invest (in industry),” Berry said.
Bradley County has not had any major announcements of new industries in the past year. Berry said this is due to lack of “large, shovel-ready industrial sites,” with cost-saving infrastructure already in place. This has led to some potential businesses looking elsewhere.
Despite such issues, Berry said he has received some interest in potential industrial sites on Durkee Road. None of the food processing or automotive industry companies considering the land have made a final decision.
Site plans have been developed to show what facilities could fit on the site.
“Most of our requests today are to be in an industrial park,” Berry said.
This issue will be addressed when the Spring Branch Industrial Park becomes available. Berry said the industrial park could be shown after the completion of local interstate connectors leading to the site. Right now the only way for potential businesses to see the site is by air.
Each company has different needs. Some want access to a railroad. Berry said he is in favor of using trains because they have more capacity than tractor-trailers.
“That’s a good alternative to building more roads,” Berry said.
Some need more land than others. Berry said many times companies do not want to locate a plant near a residential area.
“We don’t take zoning seriously enough here,” Berry said.
Many also want new land rather than to redevelop a previous industrial site. An abandoned industrial site available for redevelopment is referred to as a brownfield. The old Whirlpool site is one example. The site is divided into three sections. Some companies have been looking at the Plant 3 site, Berry said.
Berry pointed out there are challenges to redeveloping the Plant 1 site, such as age of the buildings and some potential environmental issues.
“It’s a bunch of lean-to buildings butted together over a 100-year history that started as an entrepreneurial adventure here,” Berry said.
He said it is one reason Whirlpool needed to relocate to a more efficient setup.
He said a parking lot area on the site is a good place to begin redevelopment.
Many nonprofits in the community have talked with him about relocating to buildings on the site. Berry said this would not be cost-effective due to the age of the buildings.