Think Tank explodes Hamilton County farmland purchase | Tennessee News

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By DAVE FLESSNER, Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (AP) – As the Hamilton County government prepares its biggest land purchase in decades for a new industrial park, a Conservative think tank in Nashville is calling the move a “horrible policy” that will not allow that about a third of the property needs to be developed for a new industry.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he hopes to close a $ 16 million acquisition over the next week for the 2,179-acre McDonald’s farm in Sale Creek to develop sites needed for industrial development and commercial and to provide additional parks and recreation areas.

But the Tennessee Beacon Center says the purchase of the farm is one of the worst examples of government waste in the state for 2021.

“Hamilton County Commissioners must be fans of ‘Field of Dreams’ after spending $ 16 million to buy 2,170 acres in hopes of turning it into a manufacturing hub,” says the Beacon Center in its new pork report, highlighting what he calls the worst. examples of waste, fraud and abuse in Tennessee over the past year. “Besides spending millions of dollars in taxes with the dream of turning it into a manufacturing hub, the real cost of the land was far from left field.”

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Only about 700 acres of the farm are flat and sufficiently developable for a new industry, bringing the cost of usable land to nearly $ 23,000 an acre even before the construction of expensive sewage and water pipes and construction. new roads leading to the site, according to the Beacon Center.

But Coppinger said he pushed to acquire the farm in northern Hamilton County not only for its industrial potential along Highway 27 and the Norfolk Southern Railroad, but also because of its scenic farmland. and its access to the Cumberland Plateau for recreational, agricultural and environmental purposes.

“From the start, our intention was not only to build an industrial park on this site, but also to use the property for mixed-use development as a green space and even a learning environment for children, much like this that we did at Enterprise South where we have both an industry and a nature park, ”Coppinger said. “This property presents many opportunities for different types of use.

Sewer lines will be extended to the property from the City of Dayton and further improvements will be made over time to help provide the necessary land for industry and businesses looking to locate in the Sunbelt growing, Coppinger said.

Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said the McDonald farm will provide the sites necessary for increased economic growth in Chattanooga.

“We missed out on a number of opportunities that would have been very important in terms of new school tax revenues and economic impact for Hamilton County as we simply did not have viable options to consider for some businesses. when planning their growth, ”says Bois.

The shortage of sites has intensified over the past two years, and the McDonald’s farm site that straddles both sides of the Hamilton and Rhea counties border is perfectly suited to the growth already propelled by recent expansions in Nokian Tires in Dayton and other projects, says Wood. The land was owned by the family of the late Roy McDonald, founder of Chattanooga News-Free Press, which has since merged with the Chattanooga Times.

Beacon officials wonder why the private sector cannot meet the demand for industrial space without imposing the costs of future operations on existing businesses.

“‘If you build it, they’ll come’ might be a good movie quote, but that makes for horrible politics,” said Mark Cunningham, vice president of strategy and communications for the Beacon Center, an advocacy group. Free market. “These types of deals have historically been a write-off for taxpayers instead of a grand slam. Elected officials should stop spending taxpayers’ money and instead seek to make it easier for businesses to run in Tennessee. “

Beacon also criticizes the example of the Memphis regional megasite which sat empty for 15 years until the state agreed to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and aid to attract Ford Motor Co. and a Korean battery maker to build a battery and an electric car. assembly plant on the 3,600 acre property.

As Beacon opposes these government incentives and real estate purchases, the Memphis mega-site has finally landed the biggest new economic investment in Tennessee history with plans by Ford and SK Innovation to invest $ 5.6 billion. dollars and create at least 5,800 new jobs, starting in 2025.

Likewise in Chattanooga, local governments have invested millions of dollars to convert the former Volunteer Army munitions factory at Tyner into the Enterprise South industrial park, which has been used to recruit Volkswagen, Amazon and dozens of small businesses. which collectively employ more than 10,000 local jobs. and have spurred thousands more jobs in the region.

With nearly $ 800 million in current and future tax breaks as well as investments in site infrastructure, Volkswagen and its suppliers have invested more than $ 2 billion in America’s only vehicle assembly plant. of VW’s North, which, according to a 2019 University of Tennessee study, added more than 16,000 jobs in Tennessee even before VW’s recent $ 800 million expansion to make battery-powered SUVs .

Municipal debate on broadband

In its 16th annual pork report, the Beacon Center also criticizes the Knoxville Utilities Board for offering to spend $ 702 million to build a broadband network when 98% of its customers already have access to more than one provider. private broadband Internet access.

“The government run internet is something we will never support, especially where there are private sector alternatives,” Cunningham said. “But it’s especially bad in Knoxville because it’s totally unnecessary and even KUB has said in a previous report that it doesn’t make sense because of the costs and other issues.”

The Beacon Center and other critics of municipal broadband services raised similar concerns more than a decade ago when the Chattanooga EPB issued more than $ 200 million in bonds to help launch its broadband service. in 2009 as part of its fiber optic network built for a smarter electricity grid. While high-speed municipal businesses in Memphis and other cities have proven unsuccessful, EPB’s broadband network has helped generate nearly $ 2.7 billion in economic spinoffs and created nearly 10 000 jobs in Chattanooga, according to an economic analysis released earlier this year by the University of Tennessee at Bento Lobo, an economist from Chattanooga.

Wood said public-private partnerships that have made long-term investments in projects such as the Tennessee Riverwalk, EPB’s “Gig City” fiber optic network and previous industrial parks such as Riverport, Bonny Oaks and Enterprise South have all propelled the economy and quality of Chattanooga. life.

As companies scale faster to respond to changing market conditions, most seek industrial sites where they can move quickly, if necessary, to build new facilities with utilities and roads already in place, Wood said.

“Economic development is really about preparation,” he said. “You are not going to be successful if you do not prepare for the future. Fortunately, in our community, we have had political and civic leaders who have invested in long term projects like these industrial parks to help us attract billions of dollars in new business investments that help propel our economy.

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