Engines signaling certain growth and increased hiring revved with the earlier 2008 announcement that Volkswagen was coming to Enterprise South, a location whose hiring base would reach out to Cleveland and Bradley County workers, but that was just the beginning.
The momentum charged full speed ahead in 2010 with an unprecedented number of major industrial development announcements, most of which were centered in the local community.
- Wacker Chemie AG of Munich, Germany, disclosed plans (in February 2009) that it would come to America and construct a new $1 billion, 500-employee plant in north Bradley County to manufacture polycyrstalline silicon. In early December 2010, the company confirmed that site preparation had begun on its new manufacturing facility but that the stakes were now higher. Due to increasing product demand, Wacker Chemie hiked its original investment from $1 billion to $1.45 billion and its expected work force jumped from 500 to 650.
- On Labor Day 2010, the Whirlpool Corporation announced plans to build a new $120 million, 1.4 million square-foot manufacturing facility and distribution center in Bradley County on Benton Pike near Michigan Avenue Road, and would add another 150 workers to its Cleveland Division employee base of 1,500. This would extend the total Whirlpool Cleveland operations employment to more than 2,100, including the Cleveland Customer eXperience Center on 20th Street and the Cleveland Cooking Technology Center on the existing factory campus at 740 King Edward Ave. S.E. Groundbreaking for the new facility was held on Veterans Day.
- In early December, Amazon.com announced plans to construct two 1 million square-foot fulfillment centers in north Bradley County and in Enterprise South; the Bradley County facility will employ 226 full-time workers and 600 to 800 seasonal employees. The local Amazon commitment is about $49 million. Site preparation is already under way.
- Within 24 hours after the Wacker Chemie announcement that its site preparation had begun, Olin Corp.’s Chlor-Alkali plant in Charleston announced a long-awaited $160 million investment to convert to a completely mercury-free operation by the end of 2012.
- On Dec. 10, AbitibiBowater — whose community-spirited Calhoun paper mill is a household name to most Bradley County families — announced that it was successfully emerging from a three-year creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Protection Act in Canada and Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. It wasn’t necessarily growth, but in a year dominated by news of U.S. and global economic turmoil it was a welcomed disclosure that signaled the retention of hundreds of local jobs.
All the positive announcements in economic development over the latter half of 2010 made many Cleveland and Bradley County leaders feel that in some respects the world was watching because the global economy was still struggling and America was continuing her climb out of The Great Recession.
While the world watched, the earth moved.
Site preparation is well under way at all three major developments — Whirlpool, Amazon.com and Wacker Chemie. The Amazon distribution centers should be in operation before Christmas; the Whirlpool plant will begin production by first quarter 2012; and WACKER anticipates start-up by sometime in 2013.
Amid all the news about local industrial development, community excitement grew to a new pitch compliments of a couple of simple speeches — but both came from the podium of the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama. In August 2010, the U.S. commander in chief in a presentation to education leaders mentioned Cleveland State Community College in recognition of a new remedial math program. Just a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., the president told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of several American businesses who are going above and beyond to protect American jobs — one of which was Whirlpool Corporation with its new plant in Southeast Tennessee.
“We are the envy of communities across Tennessee and even the nation,” said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis. “We are fortunate to have so much capital investment and job creation taking place here.”
Davis, whose office has been a close working partner with other economic development drivers in the community, said of 2010, “(It) was an outstanding year and when you look at the numbers of the past 24 months I can truly say that Bradley County has finished its two best years ever for economic development despite a weak national economy.”
Like his Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce partners, and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Davis accented another twist to the new developments. Some represent new jobs but they also mean keeping jobs that are already here.
“These projects represent the retention of 2,500 jobs and the creation of 1,010 new ones,” Davis said. “The corporate capital investment totals more than $1.8 billion here in two years.”
Rowland said the recent successes by Cleveland and Bradley County are due to no one person, no single entity and no lone government jurisdiction. It is a team approach, he said.
“It’s definitely a team effort and no one organization can take full credit; however, I must say (the) Chamber of Commerce is our common thread to weave us all together and keep the wheels turning efficiently and effectively,” the Cleveland mayor said. “We are also blessed with the support of the Southeast Tennessee Development District and TVA who have played a major role in our industrial development.”
Rowland also credited the work of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, who has worked as a strong partner with government jurisdictions throughout Southeast Tennessee.
Rowland said the Chamber, and other economic development movers and shakers, are not resting on their laurels.
“Through the Chamber’s efforts, they still have over 20 active prospects that indicate they will develop new facilities in the course of the next two years,” Rowland said in his January “State of the City” address. “So, we are not stopping here. We have prospects and leads still keeping us busy.”
He added, “They are also working hard to encourage existing industry retention and expansion, and this has proven beneficial this past year with plans for several to expand, add product, services and work force.”
Whirlpool, Amazon.com, Wacker Chemie, Volkswagen and Olin are the biggest names in the economic development news, but they are not the only names. Other existing companies are expanding, and increasing their work forces, and even more new ones are looking at the area.
“The new interchange, planned between Exit 20 and South Lee Highway, will open access to a large area for commercial and industrial development,” said Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the local Chamber.
The city of Cleveland and Bradley County have also approved local funding for two local interstate connector roads that will connect the new APD 40 interchange to local roads.
“This will create frontage roads along APD 40 and I-75 and subsequently open more land for future commercial and industrial development around Exit 20,” Berry said.
Gary Farlow, Chamber president, praised the teamwork of all entities and pointed to the role of the Industrial Development Board which is chaired by area businessman Ross Tarver. Farlow said the IDB chairman’s leadership in helping to make change has been, and will continue to be, pivotal throughout the growth process.
Farlow also pointed to a 2010 project that he described as flying under the radar; that is, the opening of the Career and Work Force Development Office in the Village Green Town Center.
“We believe that having an office conveniently located will provide a better-trained and prepared work force for Cleveland and Bradley County industries,” Farlow said.
In response to the wave of growth, area government leaders are looking to the future and specifically the coming infrastructure needs over the next 25 years. This is the purpose of the BCC 2035 Strategic Growth Plan which identifies steps necessary and outlines a recommended process for preparing for coming growth in three key areas — the southern corridor which is the McDonald and Exit 20 areas, the northern corridor which is north Bradley County and Exit 33, and the Cleveland urban core.
The growth strategy is making its round of reviews within local government jurisdictions.
Sometimes hidden behind all the industrial growth headlines of 2010 is the ongoing progress of the new Cleveland Municipal Airport which is now in Phase 2 of its construction. The airport, which will provide a quicker and more convenient transportation access for many area organizations, companies, businesses and industries — existing and new — should be in operation sometime in 2013.