IDB takes steps to be business friendly

Friday, December 9, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Write

A few technical business matters, euphemistically called housekeeping, were resolved by Lewisburg's Industrial Development Board on Tuesday when the panel held its first meeting in what's now called the Historic First Avenue Building.

"When you write to a business in Chicago," Mayor Barbara Woods said while supporting another city panel's plan to rename the landmark structure, "you don't want to invite them to Lewisburg where they would have a private meeting in the Ladies Rest Room."

Marshall County built the building in 1924 for the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of farmers who came to town to conduct business. Then, the building included a meeting room for the women. Now, it's a room for business meetings when market sensitive timing should remain private for competitive reasons, Woods and others at City Hall have explained. Some examples of those discussions were revealed during the IDB's monthly meeting. Some were requests for permission to tidy up a few loose ends, or to adjust something for what's ostensibly a nominal step. However, these changes are for businesses that are now in the Lewisburg Business Park on the north side of Mooresville Highway. Their intentions were not made public until agreements were finalized.

Originally, Christian Brands, the company operating a call center and warehouse, was named Autom, a business held by South 31st, a company in Phoenix, Ariz. Another name change is required to separate the Tennessee operations from the Phoenix offices and retail store, attorney Bob Binkley said. There's a tax advantage, too, but the family partnership operating here has been the subject of quiet conversations for what's led to hundreds of new jobs in the business park.

Christian Brands now has Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT) agreements with Lewisburg. PILOTs are public contracts. Their existence becomes known as a result of state laws on open meetings and records.

Meanwhile, Lewisburg Economic Developer Greg Lowe's request to rename the business park was well received. The new name is to be the I-65 Distribution Park. That name is better for Internet searches.

"It's a marketing thing," Lowe explained. "I want to say distribution...

"Trucking companies say, 'We'll put a hub out there if you have a distribution center there,'" Lowe told the IDB.

The new name also implies the business park is not exclusive to Lewisburg, thereby reflecting a proximity to the GM plant in Spring Hill, he said.

Furthermore, Interstate 65 goes south to ports on the Gulf of Mexico that will have more ship freight when the widening of the Panama Canal is completed, Lowe said.

He and City Manager David Orr have spoken with the Tennessee Department of Transportation about the road into the distribution center.

A subcommittee of the IDB will formally consider Lowe's request and have a recommendation when the IDB meets in January.

Also Tuesday, Binkley reported progress on another PILOT Agreement. Ace Bayou is operating where Sanford used to make pencils. The PILOT for Ace Bayou had a "bumpy road," Binkley said, noting the IDB declined to activate a PILOT until environmental issues were resolved on the Sanford land. As an attorney working on the contract, Binkley reported that he'd held a sum of money from Sanford until the issue was resolved. The money's been released and the IDB didn't have to act on the matter. Binkley said he was simply reporting the progress.

Lowe also reported progress regarding other PILOT Agreements, adding that a property borderline issue could be resolved on Tuesday.