Sullivan County budget panel backs land sale to Bell Helicopter

J. H. Osborne • Nov 8, 2012 at 11:15 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s Budget Committee endorsed plans Thursday to sell 41 acres of land to Bell Helicopter — and commit $195,000 in county funds to help secure a $1.2 million state grant to ready the site for construction to expand Bell’s facility in Piney Flats.

The $11 million expansion holds the potential of bringing 125 new jobs to the county, NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership Director Richard Venable said.

Negotiations have been ongoing for a year or so to get the proposed project to this stage, Venable said.

The Budget Committee’s endorsement follows thumbs-ups for the plans from the Sullivan County Commission’s two other primary committees earlier in the week — meaning almost certain approval by the full Commission later this month.

Earlier this week, Jack Lawson, director of economic development for NETWORKS, said a final announcement isn’t expected for three or four months.

Lawson said local incentives are needed to remain competitive, because Bell could take their expansion plans to their plants in Louisiana or Texas.

Bell wants a 41-acre vacant parcel in the industrial park, owned by the county and offered to Bell for $279,520, Lawson said.

In addition, Bell is negotiating to buy an adjacent property and building from another business.

Bell’s total investment for the expansion, including land, construction and equipment, would be $11 million, Lawson said.

If the $1,170,275 “fast track” grant comes through, the county would pay $195,000 toward that total and Bell would pay another $109,271 — leaving the state to fund $866,004.

Lawson said there are other benefits as well. If Bell buys the existing building from the neighboring business, that business will then turn around and buy another property in the industrial park — which will send additional revenue to the county.

Earlier this week, County Commissioner Dwight King said he’d spoken with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about the state grant — and while Ramsey stopped short of outright guaranteeing anything, he said there was a “very, very good chance” it would happen.

The full Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to vote on the plans on Nov. 19.

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