Doug Berry, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce vice president for Economic Development, told members of the Industrial Development Board Tuesday morning he averages about two inquiries a month, primarily from the food preparation and automotive supplier industries.
Berry said the Cleveland and Bradley County area has had more than its share of economic growth over the last three years. With the exception of Wacker Polysilicon North America and Amazon, all of the activity came from expansion or modernization of existing industries.
“The vast majority of our sustained job growth is coming from our existing industry base,” he said.
Whirlpool is a 100 year-old operation. Olin and Duracell plants are both 50 year-old operations and all three of them made major reinvestments or rebuilds.
In a general update of local activity, Berry suggested driving to Lauderdale Memorial Highway and looking north toward the new Wacker Polysilicon plant that is under construction and then loop around Lower River Road and drive through there to look at the back side of the plant. It’s very large and at $1.8 billion, “I believe it is the second-largest private investment under way in the United States right now. I think there is an Intel chip plant in Arizona that is a $2.3 billion investment.”
The new Whirlpool plant on Benton Pike is operational. The company is in the middle of a 1 ½-year transition period of moving equipment from the downtown facilities into the new million-square-foot plant.
“This is the first Gold LEED-certified manufacturing plant in Bradley County. It is also the largest investment in the cooking product’s industry in the United States,” he said. LEED is short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
He said there is an 11-acre stream mitigation area between the plant and East parking lot. The area is designated a wetland and is protected from development by a conservation easement.
“They can never build in or develop that area,” Berry said. “There is room for them to add a couple of hundred thousand square feet of manufacturing space behind building. There is also room to expand the distribution area by about 200,000 square feet.”
There is still one more stream to restore on the site,” he said.
Amazon has been operational almost a year. The distribution center is 1 million square feet. It is a fixed footprint that is not designed to expand. Amazon’s original commitment was for 244 permanent jobs. At this point, it is up to nearly 500 permanent jobs.
“I’ll always contend if we had had another similar interstate fronting property, we would have two Amazon facilities in Bradley County,” he said.
The Chamber is actively marketing the 50,000-square-foot speculative building in the Cleveland Bradley Industrial Park. The building has high bays a minimum of 30 feet high. It is set up with docks on one end and drive-ins. It is expandable to 100,000 square feet.
“This is the site the company that builds seats for Volkswagen selected as its preferred location,” Berry said. “We could have had that project had it not been for Volkswagen’s concern about a tier one supplier being potentially 25 minutes away from the dock as opposed to three minutes away on-site in the supplier park adjacent to the manufacturing plant.”
Since then, Berry said he has changed his perspective to focus on tier two and three automotive suppliers because they do have more flexibility in the distance from the plant.
He is hopeful of acquiring the property for the Spring Branch Industrial Park this fall, but even then it would take two years to actually site a company and for it to become operational, because of the interchange construction at Exit 20 and the new interchange on APD 40 between Interstate 75 and South Lee Highway. The future park has room for a total of 2 million square feet under roof on 336 acres divided into nine sites. The current owner, Jones Lakeland LLC, will retain 12.2 acres of commercial property fronting Interstate 75.
“Until the trucks can come off the interstate, hit the ramp and go into the park, the most we could probably do is get a project under construction about a year in advance of having the interchange finished,” he said. “The intent is to keep a 25 percent open space ratio as we develop these industrial properties.”
He discussed the modifications to Exit 20, which calls for lengthening the off ramp to APD 40 from northbound I-75. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will separate the traffic turning east from the traffic turning west. There will be a turn lane leading to the new interchange without having to merge into traffic on APD 40. The new overpass will have six lanes across I-75.
The new interchange will be approximately six-tenths of a mile east of Exit 20 and nine-tenths of a mile west of South Lee Highway. Auxiliary lanes are to be added along existing APD 40 to connect the two adjoining interchanges. The project is comprised of two 12-foot lanes, 12-foot auxiliary lanes with 12-foot shoulders and a 28-foot median with a concrete barrier wall. The total length of the project is about 1.5 miles.
“TDOT has indicated it might start property acquisition this fall and may even see some level of construction in the fall,” he said.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said TDOT has six pieces of property to acquire and does not anticipate any problems.
He said traffic will be chaotic during the two years of construction work.
“There is no way around it. We’ve got two lanes and we’re adding four more,” he said.