Lowe presents killer plans for making new jobs

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Lewisburg Economic Development Director Greg Lowe makes a point about what can be done to increase employment.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Lewisburg's economic development director virtually apologized last week for the way he outlined his goals for 2012, calling the presentation "Death by Power Point."

Beyond his self-deprecating humor that started a fact-filled, 26-page "look at 2012 and beyond," Greg Lowe showed where Lewisburg shines compared to its competition when attracting new employers, and he said what he wants to do by the end of the year.

Lowe also put things in perspective. The most recent unemployment rate is 12.8 percent, still unacceptable, but it's the lowest since 2008. Furthermore, consultation with others in the field of economic development includes advice. Be ready. Apparently, there will be growth in the spring.

"Warehousing and manufacturing are the two businesses that are looking at expansion," Lowe told the city's Industrial Development Board.

I-65 Commerce Park is the new name proposed for the Lewisburg Business Park on Mooresville Highway because it locates the place along Interstate 65 and it's within 30 miles of the GM plant at Spring Hill, he said. Lowe had sought to call it I-65 Warehouse Park but, as one of three in a group refining the recommendation, Lowe apparently acceded to another view.

Transportation, labor costs and business incentives are among a couple dozen factors considered by businessmen when expansion and relocation are planned. Lewisburg compares well on those issues. Housing costs and the nature of schools are other factors industrialists examine; more so than the crime rate.

Incentives include PILOT (payment in lieu of tax) agreements, and Robin Minor, one of several councilmen attending the monthly IDB meeting on Jan. 3, asked Lowe to report how many jobs have been created by such agreements. They've been used here for the Arby's restaurant and CKNA. Lowe promised a report to the council as requested.

"Few (expanding businesses) look for more than 20 new jobs," Lowe continued.

The Rev. Steve Thomas, another of the councilmen attending at the Historic First Avenue Building, asked about the "20 job threshold," and Lowe confirmed that "most" of the business expansions here "have been higher than the 20."

"Consolidation of sites is a trend for businesses," Lowe told the IDB of how that can reduce costs. An example is Christian Brands, originally establishing a warehouse and call center here. It's expanded with a candle factory and jewelry plant.

Short videos to be posted on YouTube would "show off local employers," Lowe said, calling it "a neat little project we'll be working on."

Meanwhile, officials at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski are interested in cooperating in an on-going effort with Marshall County schools' Spot Lowe Technology Center to teach skills sought by employers, he indicated.

Spot Lowe director Lyn Stacey "has about 10 local students who want to intern with local businesses," Lowe said, promising to stay "in touch with students to be sure they know what's available" at local businesses.

Training matched with what employers need isn't new here. Years ago, it became clear that businesses wanted welders, so a welding class was added to county schools' offerings.

"I want to form a plant managers association," Lowe told the IDB, explaining that if plant managers know who supplies other factories here, then they may find ways to cut costs.

The first proposed meeting of the plant managers association might be held at the Lewisburg campus of Columbia State Community College, Lowe said.

As he anticipates cooperation from CSCC Campus Director Elizabeth McDow, Lowe reports that a man will have a welcome center for Lewisburg in the convenience store he's developing east of Exit 32 at I-65 and Mooresville Highway. It's also to have a restaurant in the building. It's to include a flat screen TV and rows of brochures telling travelers what's available in Marshall County, Lowe said.

"Is it fudging a little bit (to call such a display in a convenience store a Welcome Center?) Lowe asked rhetorically. "Yeah, sure, but it's a welcome center."

That system of informing travelers is more realistic than another project mentioned by Lowe as among his 2012 goals.

A virtual spec building generated by a computer program, he said, could display a building constructed on the speculation that a prospective industry might buy it and establish operations in Lewisburg.

It is, as Lowe put it, "How to do it without doing it." The proposed computer-generated image of a building could also provide a bird's eye view of how trucks traveling on I-65 could go to the I-65 Commerce Park where Lewisburg residents might be employed.

Other concepts, goals and factors affecting the city's economic growth include, according to Lowe:

* More northbound traffic on I-65 coming from ports on the Gulf of Mexico such as those at Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans, La. The increase is, as previously reported, to be a result of the widening of the Panama Canal.

* A cooperative effort for a large industrial park at Exit 22 of I-65 on the Giles and Marshall counties' line near The Tennessean truck stop. Lowe mentioned the availability of thousands of acres. During the IDB meeting, he didn't mention the improvements of a public road intersection as granted by the Marshall County Highway Committee to Sam Smith. A couple of years ago, Smith said he'd pave much of the road built to access his family land after I-65 was built.

* Participation Feb. 21 in a Day On The Hill at Nashville where representatives of local governments would lobby state lawmakers for programs to increase jobs. Local leaders and business owners should participate, Lowe said. Another time should also be sought to deliver a more specific or refined message.