Doug Berry, Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce vice president for Economic Development, told the Economic Development Council Thursday afternoon that none of the inquiries have lead to any commitments to locate in the area.
Successfully luring business to relocate to a community depends on variables, some of which are beyond anyone’s control. A recent case in point was a warehouse that chose to locate in Virginia.
“We had a major prospect that wanted to look for an existing building. We did have a building off Old Tasso Road that met their needs perfectly, but they ended their statement (inquiry) with: Virginia has offered a 100,000 sq. ft. building for a 10-year lease for $1 a year with an option to purchase it at the end of 10 years for $1,” Berry said. “But that’s how desperate some communities are. That’s some of the competition we’re facing. That was a building owned by an industrial board and it’s a community where they are hungry enough that they just want the jobs and that’s all they are interested in.”
Another variable, which can be locally controlled, is the availability of an industrial site. Having farmland is no longer enough, he said. Companies are no longer willing to wait six months to build a road to the site.
Berry said eight companies looked at the county in June and July with six requests for information coming within the span of one week in late July and early August. Those were followed by nine project opportunities in September.
“We’ve actually submitted buildings and/or sites on five of those. We had one company visit in September. They were looking for existing warehouse space and they were an existing Tennessee company,” he said.
Information about the new spec building in the Cleveland Bradley Industrial Park was sent to two companies, which resulted in follow-up dialogue. And, information on two greenfield sites was sent out last week. One of the previously undeveloped sites was in Charleston and the other was off Durkee Road.
“Hopefully we can leverage some of the infrastructure that we’ve done around the Whirlpool project to be able to us,” he said. “The total potential investment from these projects in September alone is $427 million with the possibility of eleven hundred jobs. Now if we can just get them from that initial review then conversation is the next point.”
Berry also briefly mentioned talking to an existing business about approaching its parent corporation of shifting some of its operations from other states.
“What that could mean is the opportunity for us to compete with a few other manufacturing sites to help with a consolidation of operations for efficiency,” he said. “It’s an interesting project but it doesn’t really have a timeline at this point. I think it’s this group locally being more aggressive than the others.”
Berry said he would attend an automotive conference in Chattanooga hosted by the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association.
He said a quarterly survey of association members shows the biggest concern is not the economy or the November election, but it is having a qualified workforce.
“To be quite honest with you, I think one of the biggest hurdles we have to get through in this region to successfully attract automotive suppliers is we are going to have to re-up some old traditional trades and start some training programs for machinists, tool and die makers and other apprentice type programs that are the true skills of the automotive industry,” he said.
All of the studies for the Spring Branch Industrial Park are finished. The next step is a review by state agencies and authorization to incur debt. The state review is expected to take 30 to 45 days. After that, it will be up to Bradley County, city of Cleveland and Cleveland Utilities to agree on funding. The city would finance the total amount of about $6 million with each of the three entities equally sharing the cost.
“After that, we can close within as little as two weeks,” he said.