The announcement in Jefferson City on Thursday that a partnership between Appalachian Electric Cooperative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has netted a $1.14 million loan for the city’s industrial development board was cheery, to say the least.
“I’m so excited to be with the USDA and see this project to fruition,” Jim Tracy, state director for USDA Rural Development and former state senator, said. “My No. 1 job that I do, being the state director for Tennessee, is helping economic development. We work hand and glove with the department of ECD with the state, which is great — whether it be on broadband issues, whether it be industrial, whether it be water or sewer, all kinds of infrastructure issues. If you’re going to recruit and retain industry, particularly, you’ve got to have all those things in place.
“We’re excited today to be a partner with Appalachian, and to partner with $1.14 million to help purchase around 69 acres for an industrial park here in Jefferson County,” Tracy said. “We know at Rural Development, if rural Tennessee prospers, we all prosper. Tennessee is doing great, but there are many places that we can improve on, and we’re going to do that through economic development and we want to be your partner.”
The 69 acres are comprised of land commonly known as the Hunt property; it lies between Lowes and Walmart and the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Its official name is The Jefferson City Industrial Complex. It’s bordered by Chucky Pike and Odyssey Road, east and west, the railroad to the north and Walmart and Lowes to the south. No timeline has been announced as to site development.
The involvement of AEC is a boon to Jefferson City’s economic development, as it has been to other counties within the Cooperative’s service area. In Hamblen County, for example, a 2018 loan was made to new manufacturer, Iatric.
“One of the things about electric cooperatives is that they are mandated to foster economic development. Through that, we are eligible to get loans through the USDA that other people can’t get,” Dale Fain, AEC board chair, said. “So we are able to get federal money, and it’s a pass-through loan that doesn’t impact customer rates. One of the first things people ask is, ‘How much is this going to cost on my electric bill?’ It’s going to cost you nothing; it’s a pass-through loan. We get the money; they pay us back; we pay back the federal government. It’s as simple as that.
“People ask us, ‘Why did you do one for Morristown?’ Well, that’s jobs for the area,” Fain said. “We have people in Jefferson County who work in Morristown.”
Fain served on the IDB for 26 years — “It was always about us or them, and it’s just great that our counties are now working together; not only on their industrial park out there (East Tennessee Progress Center), but also with each other in general, and it’s all good for our community,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to work with everybody,” Tracy said in response. “That’s what we do at Rural Development: it’s all about economic development, jobs, and you’ve got to have all these things together to make it work.”
AEC General Manager Greg Williams was feeling celebratory as well.
“This is truly a gift of partnership; a lot of folks have come together to make this happen. Appalachian Electric has helped, kind of in the background, and it’s been a pleasure to do that. AEC’s role is probably best described in one of our Cooperative principles, and that is concern for community … and one way we demonstrate that, obviously, is through economic development. And we’re very, very proud of that.
“We serve 40,000 folks in this area, in a five-county region, and Jefferson County is a big part of that; so 40,000 folks are dependent on us for electricity, but also to help with economic development. The key part of that is that 86% of those folks are residential. We are a bedroom community, not only to Morristown, but also to Knoxville. So those folks are looking for jobs and anything we can do to create jobs is obviously critical.”
AEC is the primary local connection to USDA funds.
“They have an opportunity to bring money to this community, and we want to be that connection,” Williams said. “Not only is AEC able to provide this loan of $1,140,000 to the city IBD in order to purchase this property, but we also provided a matching portion of that loan, $285,000. Now that $285,000 came from a revolving loan fund that was originally set up through USDA, through money that came through grants, that those monies were paid back and Appalachian retained that money in a fund called a revolving loan fund, so we have been able to tap that to do the matching portion of this particular loan. So it’s a win-win, it really is for the city IBD to be able to fund this entire project through this means.”
Williams referenced the $2 million loan to Iatric, which he said leveraged an almost $30 million investment in the company, which is set to provide 300 jobs.
“We don’t serve the plant, but it’s a true partnership in a regional aspect, in the way we work. All in all, AEC has been able bring in almost $4 million through USDA into our communities: in Grainger County, in Jefferson County and in Hamblen County,” Williams said.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison said, “It’s good to see a day like this. This has nothing to do with being a democrat; this has nothing to do with being a republican; this has to do with us together working, behind the scenes with the state and with the U.S. Federal government and saying, ‘what can we do together that is right for a whole pot load of people in the Appalachians?’ I am just encouraged to see this.”
Jefferson City Mayor Mitch Cain recognized the Jefferson City Council, members of which he said “had the vision that they wanted to grow community, that they wanted to leverage investment and they wanted to see that folks had a place to work and live.”
“Thank you for having that type of vision and for pushing us forward,” he said.
“I’m excited about what’s happening in Jefferson City, because of the impact it has on Jefferson County. Because we are one group of people, and we are in the process of eliminating those lines that say, ‘We are this or we are that’ … We’re about what’s best for Jefferson city and Jefferson County. We’re thankful that Jefferson City has taken the lead for industrial development for our county.” Jefferson County Mayor Mark Potts said.
As of June 11, the county was 227 years old.
“When I see this partnership that has formed between the city and all the different entities here today to make this industrial park happen, I’m pretty sure Jefferson County and Jefferson City is going to be here for another 200 years, doing what’s best for our residents,” Potts said.
LeAnn Sutton, AEC member services advisor, emceed the announcement.
“We are excited for this partnership; we are ready to move forward and recruit industries and take those next steps to get the grants that we need to improve the property and have it as a viable, shovel-ready piece of land,” Sutton said.
Williams stated that AEC was in a unique position to serve as the conduit for this loan award.
“Because we can apply for this type of loan based on our status as an electric cooperative,” Williams said in a press release issued by AEC, “we’re in a great position to be able to help may types of entities obtain financing for projects that will retain and create employment in rural areas, including industrial expansion, the construction of schools, hospitals and community facilities like justice centers, courthouses or senior centers.
“There are certain requirements that must be met,” Williams said, “with regard to eligibility. But the funds are there and our Cooperative is poised to help secure loans for viable projects. We hope others will turn to us for assistance. AEC is proud to play a role in strengthening the economic vitality of the communities we serve.”
Also attending the announcement were Lana Moore, field representative for Sen. Lamar Alexander; Jennifer Linginfelter, district director with the office of Congressman Tim Burchett; and Chelsea Ivens, deputy director of finance for Sen. Marsha Blackburn.