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Jefferson Co. "megasite" could attract new business, jobs

8:49 PM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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Jefferson County leaders have a plan that they hope will attract a major automotive manufacturer to the area, that could provide thousands of new jobs.

At 2:00 pm,  The Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee (EDOC) announced it will pursue certification of a proposed megasite near the intersection of I-40 and I-81.

A megasite is a large parcel of land, at least 1,000 acres, that's ready for large-scale manufacturing or industrial development.  Certification is done through McCullom Sweeny Consulting, a firm that works for TVA in the area of economic development.

According to a press release, the firm identified the Jefferson County site as a prime candidate for certification. In addition, the release says that industry analysts believe nine major automotive manufacturers will need additional capacity and be looking for the best place to site a new facility within the next few years.

It's a proven concept, considering that five certified megasites in the TVA service area have already been sold to major corporations, including Volkswagen and Amazon.com near Chattanooga.  Those sites have already generated $5.5 billion in economic impact and more than 32,000 jobs. 

In the Chattanooga area, nearly 6,000 jobs have been created among 19 companies that have already started operations there.  The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce reports that there is only about 50 acres of that 1,600 acre plot of land left to sell.

"This is a game changer for Jefferson County and the whole region in terms of the ability to attract high quality jobs to the area," said George Gantte, Dandridge Mayor and chair of EDOC. "Jefferson County and the entire region must rally around this effort because it is important for our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. The certification process is not easy, and there are some significant questions we must answer, but the East Tennessee Regional Megasite has tremendous potential to help us create high quality jobs, a larger tax base and an enhanced educational system and quality of life."

Gantte believes a major manufacturer constructing a facility in the megasite, as well as ancillary suppliers that would locate near the main company, would draw employment from Jefferson County as well as from surrounding counties.

"This would have a positive economic impact on a wide area in the very same way that VW and Nissan have demonstrated in Chattanooga and Smyrna," Gantte said. "It has the potential to be the largest economic development success story in the Northeast Corridor from Knoxville to the Tri-Cities. We plan to make it happen."

Analysts believe the East Tennessee Regional Megasite would be very attractive to developers, because of its size and its location near two major interstates.  It is also situated to benefit from surrounding suppliers, but not close enough to directly compete for labor and resources with any surrounding major manufacturers.

The process to get certified as a megasite takes 8 to 12 months. To qualify for certification the land has to be immediately available; have all environmental and geological tests completed; be situated close to major highways, rail lines and auto suppliers; and have plenty of labor.

"It takes up to two years to build a plant and even more time to plan," Gantte added. "So, that capacity planning is happening now and over the next one to two years. It's during this planning process that companies start looking for the appropriate place to construct. We want them to look at the East Tennessee Regional Megasite in Jefferson County."

There will be an informational open house on Tuesday, January 15, from 5-7 p.m. at the Great Smoky Mountain Expo Center.

A website, www.ETNmegasite.com, and a Megasite Info-Line at 865-397-4285 have been set up to provide more information about the project.

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