Lowe a lifelong learner for Lewisburg

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

By Karen Hall


Lewisburg's Director of Economic Development Greg Lowe has just graduated from the TVA Rural Leadership Institute, he was pleased to tell members of the Industrial Development Board Monday.

Lowe has also recently participated in a TVA Economic Development Forum and a Site Selectors Group Seminar. He is also in the Tennessee Economic and Community Development Certification Program, and plans to be a certified Economic Developer by November.

"I could write a book after these last two weeks," Lowe said. "I was overwhelmed -- excited -- scared. I wondered, 'Why does anybody pick us?'"

All of these programs have given Lowe the opportunity to find out what other cities and counties are doing to attract new industry.

"Lots of communities are doing things I wish we were doing," Lowe said. "There's a lot of stuff we might be doing, but it's all going to cost money."

Lowe reported some communities had done a lot of preparation at their industrial parks, even to the point of putting in roads with roundabouts, and a pond with walking trails.

"They're spending up-front money in making it ready," he said. "It's not the '80s any more. You've got to have all the studies done." Lowe was referring to the studies that check out every risk factor at a site, from possible endangered species' habitats and archaeological treasures, to potential wetlands and geological features that may impact what can be built.

The three things at the top of a site selector's list, Lowe said, are available workforce, links to transportation for speed to market, and "risk avoidance," which means there is no danger of a project grinding to a halt because, for instance, excavation for foundations reveals a Native American burial ground. Quality of life in the community is always in the Top Five of a site selector's list as well, Lowe said.

It's not just having good sites to offer, Lowe told the IDB. There's also the matter of incentives to persuade a company to choose your community.

"This game is changing on a daily basis," he exclaimed.

Yokohama Tire Corporation recently agreed to build a commercial truck tire plant in West Point, Miss. The plant will produce one million tires annually, starting next year, with an initial capital investment of $300 million.

"Mississippi spent $250,000 to stay in the game to get Yokohama," said Lowe. "Then they gave $15 million in incentives. That's what we're up against."

Before the economic developers in the three-county region trying to get the tire plant even knew for certain it was Yokohama considering them, they got a clue who it was, and put new Yokohama tires on their economic development vehicles, Lowe said. They also got high school seniors to write letters, saying why the company should come to their area.

Lowe wants to invite the Tennessee Valley Authority to come and spend the day in Lewisburg and "evaluate everything about us; give us a list so we can see where we're falling short, and where we're ahead of the game."

He also has a master park development plan in the works for the I-65 Commerce Park. Much of the land in the park is hilly, and a decision will have to be made about how much grading the city wants to do in order to make more of the land level enough for industrial sites.

Lowe also reported to the IDB that the city is in the "Final Four" for a "good project, jobs-wise and wage-wise." The other project, the one that wants Tax Increment Financing, is still moving forward, he said.

City Manager Randall Dunn announced he is planning a special work session for Mayor Jim Bingham and the city council so they could look at everything the city wants to do, with costs, and prioritize the projects. In Dunn's opinion, work on industrial development would come behind building a new fire hall and paving city streets.

"That's a mistake," exclaimed IDB member Dave Kennedy. "This is an investment in the future."

"I agree," said Lowe. "But it's all important -- how we look and how we function. We've never been more scrutinized than today. That's why landing Meiwa was such a big deal.

"I want to do everything," he added. "TVA did say, 'one bite at a time.'"