City, county officials work to move forward with Select Tennessee Program
Published 9:22 am Thursday, October 29, 2015
City and County officials agreed Tuesday to move forward with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s site evaluation program, at the state’s request to remove the Workforce Development Complex from the list of sites.
“The state emailed us (Tuesday) laying the groundwork on what the agreement would be if we wanted the Select Tennessee program to move forward,” said Carter County Tomorrow Chairman Richard Tester. “We were all in agreement that it needed to move forward. We agreed that we would take that property out of the site list, that we would work together on this program and that everything would be facilitated through Carter County Tomorrow.”
Select Tennessee is a new program — as of 2014 — under the Rural Economic Development Fund, that evaluates and helps prepare industrial sites. It has $6 million in grant money available to help prepare sites for incoming industries.
CCT began enrollment in the program over six months ago, but it was delayed when former CCT President Tom Anderson left. It was delayed further when TNECD officials were advised by their legal counsel to put the application on hold because the WDC was on the list of sites to be evaluated and has a pending legal complaint filed by the county regarding this lease.
According to Select TN standards, the owner must sign the application, which for the WDC is the County. But Tester said he thought, that as the WDC managing party, the CCT board should approve of it. In August, Tester posted to the website used by Select TN applicants saying the site should not be considered until the board approves.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey and his executive assistant Susan Robinson said this misunderstanding is the cause of the program being put on hold. However, according to TNECD Site Development Director Leanne Cox, the pending litigation was the cause.
However, independent efforts from both sides appear to have contributed to its current activity.
Tester, Mayor Curt Alexander and Director of Planning and Economic Development Jon Hartman spoke with TNECD staff Iliff McMann, Matt Garland and Leanne Cox at the recent Governor’s conference about moving forward with the PEP if the WDC is not on the list.
Additionally, on October 23, Humphrey, Robinson, County Attorney Josh Hardin and two others spoke with Assistant Commissioner of Rural Economic Development Amy New, TNECD representative Summer Carr and TNECD legal counsel to explain that the ownership of the WDC had not and would not change, which Robinson said was their primary concern.
“We pushed to get the hold removed, and had we not pushed, we would have still been on hold,” said Robinson. “We reached out — it was through our efforts that the hold got released.”
Tester said that hopefully within the next 30-60 days, consultants from state-hired Austin Consulting Company and Cox will be here to evaluate five of eight proposed sites.
“It’s a lot of work to get enrolled and getting sites approved to even be evaluated,” said Tester. “We have the majority of information for them, so at this point, it’s mainly just a matter of scheduling.”
Tester said Humphrey and Robinson did a majority of the work with acquiring sites for evaluation.
“This gives Carter County an opportunity to build some inventory,” said Humphrey. “They have the professionals in place, and we welcome this opportunity. We’ll do everything that we can from the county standpoint to ensure that we optimize this opportunity, and that’s why we got involved and why we worked so hard over those several weeks to make sure that all slots were filled.”
The next step is the property evaluation program, after which, CCT board may apply for grants to make the assessed improvements. Because each site is different, Tester said they will probably end up taking different steps at each and that each will require different funding. Improvements to prepare sites may include environmental and topographical studies, installing and improving utilities, establishing roadways equipping each with broadband, and structural improvements.
“The main objective is to get a site that is certified; that is vital for any industry moving in,” said Tester. “They will assist us with certification of the most appealing sites and make recommendations for us. They are experts, so we’d be fools not to take their recommendations.”