City courting business, jobs, growth

Friday, February 10, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Lewisburg is again in the running for a business development that could result in hundreds of new jobs, according to discussion Tuesday afternoon among members of the city's Industrial Development Board in the Historic First Avenue Building.

As it has in the past, the board is recommending that city councilmen adopt a resolution indicating support for a kind of property tax break that's been provided for various businesses. One is as small as the Arby's restaurant. Another's as big as the Calsonic Kansei North America factory.

Lewisburg lost a prospective business development when Sanford was looking for a place to build an ink factory. Instead, the plant went to Manchester, and production of art pencils at what was a Sanford factory here is continued in another country. Some 355 jobs were lost here after an announcement on Veteran's Day 2008.

Now, the city's economic developer, Greg Lowe, wants councilmen to adopt a resolution saying that if everything goes as planned, then the city will sign a contract that's commonly known as a PILOT Agreement. Payment In Lieu Of Taxes is accepted through a schedule of annual payments that increase by five or 10 percentage points every year depending on whether the contract is for 20 or 10 years. It's what Rutherford County did for the Nissan plant in Smyrna. Winchester did it for a business producing extruded rubber parts so doors, trunks and hoods close tight on Nissan pickup trucks. PILOT agreements can last for whatever length that the parties like.

Officials with knowledge of the current industrial prospect anticipate: an investment of $103.5 million; a five-year PILOT Agreement; and that before five years pass, there will be significant number of employees hired for work at the business, according to a resolution to be presented to the city council when it meets on Tuesday night in City Hall. A majority of councilmen attended the IDB meeting as visitors on Tuesday this week.

The resolution does not name the business because, according to Lowe's explanation to the board, he is bound by a confidentiality agreement. For that reason, the resolution to be considered by councilmen is a statement of intent. If Lewisburg is selected for the business expansion, the business has good reason to believe that it may proceed with a property tax break.

Such agreements have been advocated by city officials for several years as a good thing for the employment of people and property tax revenue because without the agreement, there might be no development and the property will not have increased in value to generate more city revenue and residents wouldn't have the opportunity to get a job at the business.

Lewisburg is in competition with a few other locations, Lowe reported. State officials "have been very receptive to this project," he said, noting Tennessee leaders have been successful with major developments including the establishment of a Volkswagen plan at Chattanooga and the Hemlock Semiconductor project at Clarksville.

"There's more to it than the local government," Lowe said, citing help from Jamie Stitt and Tommy Burns of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett has been aware of the project and was at Tuesday's IDB meeting when Dave Kennedy seconded Lee Morrison's motion to recommend councilmen adopt the resolution. The vote was unanimous.

"Things are in our favor," Lowe said. "We have things on our side. There are variables out of our control, but I'm very excited."

During a discussion with City Manager David Orr on Wednesday morning, several of Lowe's points were substantiated with regard to how industrial development occurs.

"It's not like we recruit them," Lowe said. "They recruit us."

Orr acknowledged area residents' need for economic improvement, spoke of a variety of reasons why a business might select one place instead of another, and it's possible that nothing could happen, or that it may be a very long time before it's known what location was selected, if it's not here.

That's just the nature of economic development efforts, he said.