Economic development officials watched as a track hoe scooped up a big bucket of dirt, then fully extended the boom and bucket arm up high, and let the dirt fall back to the ground.
Meigs County Mayor Garland Lankford clapped his hands and smiled. The scoop of dirt marked a milestone in the efforts of the 5-year-old Meigs County-Decatur Industrial Development Corp.
“We went at it hard and we kept hearing, do you have any pad-ready sites?” the mayor explained. “Everyone was looking for pad-ready sites.”
Now, Meigs County officials can answer in the affirmative. The sites are graded, the required soil and environmental tests are done and utilities are available to the 72-acre park.
“That saves the company that gets it time, time and more time — and money and more money,” he said. “The sites are really ready to go.”
The preliminary earthwork reduces the delivery time of a building from six to four months. Meigs County is fully funding three of the four sites of 55,000 and 66,000 square feet and two 125,000-square-foot sites. One of the larger locations was paid for in the form of an 80/20 matching grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
He said a 66,000-square-foot pad covers 1 1/2 acres, which would easily accommodate a 50,000-square-foot building.
“Everyone is not going to need a large, large pad, but all of these are designed to be expanded,” he said. “We could take a 125,000-square-foot pad and extend it to 400,000 square feet.”
Lankford said the industrial park suits some industries better than others. It is located three miles south of the Meigs County Courthouse with a four-lane connector between Decatur and Interstate 75. Highway 58 to Chattanooga, which is located 50 miles to the south, is in good condition and TDOT is in the early planning stages of widening Highway 60 to Cleveland, which is about 25 miles from the industrial park. However, there is no railroad access and the water and sewer systems will not support a food processing plant.
“But, you have thousands of industries that don’t require much water or sewer capacity. We could accommodate 10 or 20 of those,” he said. “We’re probably not going to get a Volkswagen-type industry, but Volkswagen suppliers are right up our alley. We would like to have some that would fit into our community with 75, 100 or 200 jobs.”
The Hollingsworth Company is marketing the properties. Senior Vice President of Architecture and Business Development Tom Wortham said a meeting with one company was rained out Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re expected to come back and we have a couple of others who have expressed interest within the next few weeks,” he said.
The company has about 15 million square feet of properties in 15 states and 41 cities, primarily in the Southeast with some in the Midwest.
“Frankly, Meigs County has been one of the most active locations in terms of prospect interest and the number of showings. We’re very encouraged by the state of the market in general and the prospects for Meigs County,” he said.
The standard design for their buildings is 32 feet high with 60-foot column spacing in all directions for enough flexibility to accommodate racking systems, manufacturing equipment or a combination of both.
Lankford said the company needs about 300,000 square feet.
“We don’t know much about them, but we’re ready to listen to what their requests would be,” he said.
Southeast Tennessee Development District Executive Director Beth Jones said the industrial park is the result of a long-term development strategy over the better part of the past 20 years.
“It’s about acquisition of property, finding funding, opportunities to develop the infrastructure and it’s about locating industry and creating jobs,” she said. “Our role is to listen to them and find the funding opportunities, write the grants and the paperwork and technically assist them in what step comes first.”
Economic development is a tough business and opportunities don’t just come knocking without having a product of interest, she said.