GM signs Northfield building agreement

Friday, September 16, 2011

A five-year lease-purchase agreement for General Motors' Northfield building at Spring Hill was signed last week between General Motors and the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance.

Worker training programs are conducted in the old Saturn headquarters that's being acquired with money from the state. The regional workforce alliance serves Marshall, Maury, Giles, Lawrence, Hickman, Lewis, Perry and Wayne counties.

Workforce Alliance Board Chairman Tony Beyer of Lewisburg made the announcement Wednesday during a Breakfast Brainstorm meeting for Marshall County, held at the Columbia State Community College campus on South Ellington Parkway.

Almost two years had been spent in negotiation with GM, Beyer told the group, but now, "We have a deal" and work can start.

"It's been frustrating but worthwhile," Beyer said. "I think it will be a real asset to our region."

Part of the deal with GM is to separate all the utilities to the Northfield building from the GM plant that occupies the rest of the site. This includes changing out all the data and phone lines, an expensive undertaking. The Board determined that the work was too expensive to risk losing it all at the end of the five-year lease, so they insisted on a purchase option, and GM eventually complied. Money spent on separating the utilities will be credited toward the purchase price, which Beyer says is quite a bargain.

"It's a very good deal for our area," Beyer said. "It's not a risk or a burden to the taxpayers."

A new access road to Northfield also has to be built, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation has promised to have it done by September 2012.

The plan is to keep 100,000 square feet of Northfield for a training area, and lease out the rest.

"Our dream," Beyer said, "Is to ... make enough to fund the whole building."

"We're pretty confident in our numbers," he added.

To get an idea of the size of the training area, site director Elizabeth McDow said that all of the CSCC Lewisburg building is only 20,000 square feet.

For people who haven't been there, Beyer explained that Northfield is a 320,000-square-foot facility. It has a theater that seats 100 and a 300-seat multipurpose room, as well as an automotive shop and a fully equipped commercial kitchen.

County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett suggested this kitchen and the adjoining cafeteria could house a restaurant management program.

Some of the training programs that have already started, or will start soon, at Northfield include Columbia State's emergency medical technician and paramedic, Tennessee Technology Center at Hohenwald's licensed practical nurse, and TTC Pulaski's computer operations and networking, HVAC, residential plumbing and wiring, and Computer Numerical Controlled machining.

Beyer has previously said that, eventually, the facility could be a place to train workers so they have the skills needed at GM's factory.

Already the Workforce Alliance has TRG Customer Solutions lined up to take 50,000 square feet on a five-year lease. Beyer said he'd heard TRG wanted to have 100 people hired by the end of October, and added, "these are not minimum wage jobs." Apparently TRG looked at Oak Ridge and Nashville, as well as sites in three other states, before deciding on Spring Hill.

Of the remaining 170,000 square feet, part could be used as an "incubator" for small business start-ups, Beyer said. Plus, having TRG already there could make it easier to get other tenants.

The South Central Tennessee Workforce Board is composed of Beyer and the mayors of the eight-county service area.