Photo above: Geotech studies occurred at the industrial park site this summer. Photo by Scott Robertson
By Jeff Keeling
The Washington County Economic Development Council (EDC) is on the cusp of two significant achievements that have been a while in coming – one organizational, the other developmental.
At the EDC’s Oct. 20 board meeting, members heard updates on both. A partially grant-funded project to grade two tracts totaling 89 acres at the Washington County Industrial Park in Telford is nearly through some bureaucratic steps that are necessary due to grant funding from several outside entities, including the state of Tennessee, EDC Business Development Director Alicia Summers said.
That work, along with construction of an access road linking the larger of the two tracts (67 acres) to the rest of the industrial park, will allow for manufacturing facilities up to 150,000 square feet on the smaller tract and 400,000 square feet on the larger. It’s being done for just over $1.5 million, the bid submitted by Thomas Construction.
$823,405 of that cost is being borne by TVA and the state thanks to grants to Washington County – a TVA grant awarded in March, and a state grant awarded in May.
“We were plugging along over the summer,” Summers said, referencing geotechnical studies and other preparatory work. “We were hopeful and optimistic that we would be able to break ground by the end of September.”
Instead, the grant money was tied to several steps that might not have been part of the process otherwise, with bids not opened until Sept 19. “We’re obligated to follow their processes and procedures,” Summers explained. “We accept the money, so we accept their (the state’s) terms.”
In mid-October, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued a stormwater permit for the work, which allows for official notification of the contractor. A pre-construction conference is pending, and Summers said, “we should be moving dirt, hopefully, in November. We’ve got a lot of money invested in this, a lot of time, and I’m looking forward to us working hard to recruit new industry out there.”
Current tenants at the park include Alo, Nakatetsu and Koyo, all manufacturing companies. The 67-acre tract was purchased in 2011, but the EDC couldn’t effectively market it without graded, “pad ready” sites. The organization has fielded multiple requests for information over the past several years related to projects that may have kept Washington County in their sites if such an industrial location had been on line.
The organizational development that has long been in the works is the creation of a new, three-county economic development organization covering the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area – Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties. Attorney Steve Darden has been helping the EDC and its soon-to-be partners draft the articles of incorporation for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, or NETREP.
With that complete, an application for IRS-designated 501(c)6 not-for-profit status has been mailed to the state, Darden said.
“We conveyed to the IRS that this is an organization that will enhance economic development, improve the business climate and lead to job development in the Johnson City, Tennessee MSA,” Darden said. He added that he’s hopeful the IRS may approve NETREP by sometime in December.
The organization will continue and amplify the private-public partnership aspect of the EDC, which has paying private-sector members. A company called Convergent has been helping the EDC recruit new members for NETREP – a process EDC CEO Mitch Miller said has gotten off to a good start.
“It’s important that as you go out and fundraise, it’s now not just an abstraction,” Darden said.
In addition to its IRS application, the organization has an initial set of bylaws, subject to revision when its full board is placed, as well as a three-year-budget and capital campaign materials.