CKNA growth getting help

Friday, October 7, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

CalsonicKansei North America, the largest single employer in Lewisburg, plans to buy new equipment and renovate its building to manufacture key components of Nissan's Leaf, an all electric car.

Part of the funding for the expansion is being made possible with a proposed modification to a contract CKNA has with Lewisburg that changes a payment schedule that mimics the factory's personal and property tax obligation.

Meanwhile, CKNA employees have been to Cornersville High School where they've explained to members of the senior class what it takes to get a good paying factory job in the 21st century.

Those explanations will also be provided at Marshall County High School and Forrest School before the end of the year, but on Tuesday night, city councilmen will be asked to sanction changes to CKNA's current Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement.

The so-called PILOT agreement uses the city's tax-free status to set aside the company's tax obligation when the city holds title to the property for a set period of time. Technically, the business and other companies with PILOT Agreements don't pay taxes. They make payments in lieu of taxes. That way, the city receives some money, and the business-friendly environment leads to more jobs for area residents.

CKNA is expanding because it will be making the battery inverter and controller for the Leaf vehicle's battery.

The PILOT Agreement helps fund renovation of existing space as well as the purchase and installation of new equipment, according to Lewisburg Economic Developer Greg Lowe.

CKNA now employs 563 people, he said.

"They're always in kind of a hiring mode because of turnover," Lowe said. "I don't think they're hiring now" for the expansion.

CKNA's current PILOT agreement hasn't been modified yet. City Council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday to consider changing the payment schedule.

"The original pilot goes through 2027," Lowe said. "The amendment will last as long, but it alters the percentage in varying degrees between 2012 and 2027."

An ordinary PILOT, such as the agreement reached between Nissan in Smyrna and the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board, is for five, 10- and maybe 20 years. The in lieu of tax payments grow annually. For example, under a five-year agreement, payments might be at 20 percent of what would be paid in taxes for the first year, 40 percent the second year and so on.

For CKNA, Lowe said, "It was to be 50 percent through 2027, but it's been modified to be 44.3 percent in 2012 and it [the percentage of what would otherwise be the tax obligation] will move up incrementally to be over 50 percent but lower than 60 percent through 2027."

Also Tuesday when the council meets in City hall, the panel will discuss the Craig Moore Road Water Project, developed by the city's utility in response to pollution of nearly nine wells for residents of that road on the west side of the old city dump that's west of Cedar Ridge Landfill.

Councilmen are also scheduled to cast the third and final vote on rezoning land near Interstate 65 and south of Mooresville Road where a gasoline station, convenience store and other related businesses and services are proposed.