Consulting firm discusses plans for Jefferson Megasite
McCallum Seeney Consulting Senior Principal Mark Sweeney, right, discusses the certification process for the proposed megasite in Jefferson County with Dandridge Mayor George Gantte, left, Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain and Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri during the Jan. 15 breakfast hosted by the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee, of which Gantte is chairman.
Speaking to an estimated crowd of 100 regional leaders Tuesday morning on the campus of Carson Newman College, McCallum Sweeney Consulting Senior Principal Mark Sweeney – representing the leading site selection firm that identified the proposed 1,800 acre megasite in Jefferson County – gave a run down of the game plan.
“Congratulations on your commitment and your effort. Roll up your sleeves; we’re about to get to work,” Sweeney said.
The breakfast crowd at Stokely Cafeteria included the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee, area city and county leaders and representatives from the offices of Rep. Phil Roe, Sen. Bob Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Sweeney’s firm has been successful in consulting the certification of the five successful TVA megasites to date and has a focus on automobile manufacturing. He explained those producing mass market consumer vehicles tend to want to be located between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, while export-oriented manufacturers tend to gravitate toward the east coast.
According to Sweeney the nice thing about the Jefferson County location is “it will be in a competitive location to serve the rest of the country.”
“You have a market condition with increasing demand and a current supply situation that says this is an area we should consider for future production,” Sweeney said. “That to me spells opportunity. What you and the community are about to embark on is being prepared for that opportunity.”
Sweeney said the automotive industry made a real move toward having ready sites and that move has dominated the automotive industry site selection.
“They will only look at certified sites,” Sweeney said. He described the TVA megasite program in Columbus, Miss., a small rural community. The president of Severcor Steel saw the community’s announcement that they had completed the certification process. Months later, according to Sweeney, the community had a $800 million facility that provided 450 jobs.
The initial phase of the process will concentrate on the physical aspects of the land, followed by community visits, sometimes multiple visits with by client team, according to Sweeney, concentrating on existing industry and businesses.
“That’s a very honest way to find out how it is to do business here,” Sweeney said. “The other is meeting with community leaders. We want to know you. Our clients want to know you. They want to see a community that is visionary, growing and focused on its future. Our clients are in growth mode. That probably means they are being very successful. They want to go to communities that are also in growth mode and being successful and making investments for the future of their community, just as their company is going to do.”
The entire process is built around deadlines, as is today’s manufacturing industry. According to Sweeney, once a company decides to increase its production and add another facility, there is a quick deadline on finding where the new facility will be located.
“Once they decide where, they no longer want to take a long time getting started,” Sweeney said. He added that in the most ideal case, its a two-year process to get the product out the door. And the companies are waiting later and later to say go.
“And when they say go, they are in a hurry,” Sweeney said. He said that communities with certified sites have “built-in competitive advantages.”
“You’ll know what’s good about your site; you’ll know its weaknesses,” he said.
Sweeney indicated interest is already high about the proposed megasite.
“After the press conference last week, I got emails from up and down the East Tennessee corridor,” Sweeney said. “This is a regional project; the burden is on the shoulders of you in Jefferson County, but once you have that done, you have an unbelievable array of marketing talent and marketing assets that will work with you. You will not be out there by yourself.”
Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain confirmed Sweeney’s statement after telling the crowd the proposed megasite will be an asset to Hamblen County, Jefferson County and the East Tennessee region.
“The days of flying solo in economic development are about over,” Brittain said. “It takes a regional approach nowadays.”
Brittain attended the meeting with Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas and Hamblen County Commission Chair Stancil Ford.
“The excitement about this and the impact that is has for not just Jefferson County, but the entire region is just phenomenal. We have an industrial park just five miles down the road. We hope to reap benefits from that,” Brittain said.
“It has the potential to create an explosion of economic activity … They will be high paying jobs. They will be jobs that will keep our children and grandchildren here in our community and not going elsewhere to look for opportunities.”
Brittain said on a personal note, “I want to see my grandchildren stay here.”
“There is a lot of work to be done and Morristown and Hamblen County is here to provide whatever help we can … Morristown and Hamblen County is all in. Our future is tied to this as well. Together we need to build a better and brighter future for our children and grandchildren.”
Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmierti told the group, “The megasite is going to make a change.
“Will it impact some people that are not going to be happy? Certainly. But do they have all the money they need? Are they comfortable where they’re at? Probably. But what about the upstarts, what about our kids, what about our grandkids?”
With regard to those who have spoken to the mayor and during a recent city council meeting in opposition to the certification process, Palmieri said.
“They’re going to try to group together .. well, that’s the American way, because we have freedom of speech. But what I’m saying is the masses want this megasite. If we don’t at least move forward to see if our community can benefit from this, then we’re foolish. That is absolutely the worst thing we can do, is just to stop right where we’re at.
“So I’m prepared to be part of the group that wants to tell everyone else, we’re going to move forward.”
-By Glenna Howington, Tribune Staff Writer