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Two Phipps Bend factory expansions will add 125-150 jobs

Jeff Bobo • Jun 22, 2017 at 8:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Two new factory expansions at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park that will amount to 125-150 new jobs and millions of dollars in new investment have been finalized, although the companies are not yet ready to make the announcements public.

Hawkins County Industrial Development Board Chairman Larry Elkins said Thursday that both press releases have been drafted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD), and they are currently being reviewed by the companies.

Elkins said he was hoping the announcements would come out this week to help shine a positive light on the IDB prior to Monday's pivotal Hawkins County Commission meeting when the budget comes up for approval.

Some commissioners have criticized the IDB and its industrial recruitment contractor, NETWORKS Sullivan County Partnership, for a lack of results over the past two years.

In recent weeks, however, Hawkins County has begun seeing some value for its annual $50,000 fee to NETWORKS.

The names of the expanding companies can't be released to the public until the companies give the go-ahead. One of the announcements is expected to be made within a week, Elkins said.

"The expansions are taking place as we speak and we're actually working on a third expansion project at Phipps Bend that's not quite finalized yet," Elkins told the IDB during it monthly meeting Thursday. "We're working with them, meeting with them to determine what their needs are, and trying to help them complete their expansion goals. NETWORKS has been very helpful working with these industries to get these expansions going."

Elkins also announced Thursday that Phipps Bend is one of three finalists for a new $40 million plant that would result in 60-80 new jobs.

The IDB went into executive session during Thursday's meeting to discuss the project. Industrial recruits are never identified publicly during the recruitment stage, mainly because those companies desire to keep their business plans private.

After adjourning its executive session, the IDB voted to authorize Elkins and NETWORKS to negotiate a tax abatement proposal with the prospect. If the two sides reach an agreement, that tax abatement proposal will come back to the IDB for approval.

"We feel like we've got a real shot at this one," Elkins told his board. "I feel confident we can get the ECD, TVA and Hawkins County on the same page and put together an incentive package that will get this company."

Elkins added, "We hate to be so secretive, but you know how this is. It's on a fairly fast track, and hopefully will be back within a month or two, to decide whether we're going to get it or not."

This latest flurry of IDB activity comes on the heels of three recent announcements at Phipps Bend, including a press conference earlier this month announcing that Miyake Forging North America Corp. will build a new 45,000-square-foot, $13.7 million plant there that will employ 60 people.

There was also a press conference this week to announce the completion of a $1.8 million solar farm that was built on six acres at Phipps Bend that wasn't suitable for any other type of industrial development. That solar farm will sell electricity to TVA and generate property tax revenue for the county.

Last month, Homeland Vinyl, which manufactures vinyl deck, fencing and railing at its Phipps Bend plant, announced that it will make "significant capital investment improvements" and create 50 new jobs.

Elkins noted that although these projects seem to be coming to fruition at the same time, they each represented untold hundreds of hours of work on the part of NETWORKS, as well as IDB coordinator Rebecca Baker.

NETWORKS CEO Clay Walker noted that Miyake was meticulous in choosing a location for its new plant, made seven visits from Japan to Hawkins County since October, and Baker and his staff spent more hours on that project than any others during that time period.

Walker also praised Baker for her contributions to the expansions.

"People think existing industry growth just happens," Walker said. "I've done this for 22 years, and the communities that have the best existing industry programs seem to get the most expansions, and have fewer losses. I don't think it's a coincidence that since Rebecca Baker has started her existing industry program and started forming those relationships, that the companies are coming to us asking for our help pitching expansions to their corporate heads."

Walker added, "We bring in the state (ECD) and we bring in TVA, and we put together a pitch just like it's a new company. More announcements should be coming soon, and we're just plugging along."                                                            

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