Industrial park's 'pad-ready' sites could pay off

Robert Houk • Apr 14, 2019 at 12:01 AM

Economic development leaders say investments in the Washington County Industrial Park in recent years could soon reap dividends.

Alicia Summers, vice president of business development for Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, recently told Washington County commissioners that a lack of proper site development is one reason many industrial clients “move on” when considering prospective locations.

“Thank you for making those investments in our industrial park,” she told members of the county’s Budget Committee last week.

It is because of those investments that Summers said a German company that makes fans, motors and other heating and cooling components is proposing to spend $1.2 million to buy 30 acres in the industrial park to build a 110,000-square-foot plant.

Mitch Miller, NETREP’s chief executive officer, said having a “pad-ready” site is one reason Washington County has “been able to stay in the game” when it comes to competing with other communities for the manufacturing company.

Putting Money In The Park

Had the county not made recent improvements to the park, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said the German company would have “moved on months ago.” He and other county economic development officials believe the fact Washington County Industrial Park has two state-certified sites — meaning the tracts are ready for water/sewer, grading and have an access road — puts it at the top of the list for industrial clients looking for a location.

The German company would become the fourth manufacturer to locate in the industrial park, which is off U.S. Highway 11E in Telford. Bush Hog, now a Swedish company called ALO-TN, was the first to locate there in 1997. Two Japanese companies — Koyo/JTEKT and Nakaetsu Machining Technologies — joined it in 2006.

Washington County officials purchased an additional 67.35 acres for the park in 2011. That was followed by a $1,172,000 investment in the infrastructure of park by the county in 2015. The Washington County Economic Development Council also committed $250,000 to the project.

The Tennessee Valley Authority awarded the industrial park a $350,000 site preparation grant in 2016, with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development adding another $473,405.

Site development at the industrial park was completed in 2018, with the Washington County Highway Department completing work on a new access road in June.

“All those investments have allowed us to get pad-ready and help put us where we are today,” Commissioner Freddie Malone told his colleagues on the Budget Committee.

Closing The Deal

County commissioners will vote on a 13-year payment-in-lieu of taxes agreement April 22 to lure the manufacturing company to the industrial park. The unnamed firm has promised to create 179 new jobs as part of a $37.4 million capital investment in the county during a five-year period.

The global company is also in negotiations with suitors in two other locations — one in Texas and another in Tennessee. Summers said the company is expected to make a decision on where it will locate within 30 days of the commission’s vote on the PILOT.

“I am optimistic,” Summers said last week in reference to the possibility of the company choosing Washington County. “It’s not unusual for these projects to take twists and turns.”

One such twist came when the company decided it needed to start temporary manufacturing in the county before it constructed its plant in the industrial park. Fortunately, Summers said the county had such property available for lease in Johnson City.

City commissioners voted in February to rezone a tract on East Millard Street for the company to use an empty warehouse as a temporary production facility.

According to the PILOT, the company has agreed to create 68 jobs in the first phase, followed by 16 more in 2020 when the company is expected to begin limited production in a leased building outside the industrial park.

The company plans to begin construction of its facility in the industrial park within 24 to 36 months of the PILOT being implemented by the county’s Industrial Development Board. The company also hopes to expand that operation in a few years.