NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership head Richard Venable and Bristol Deputy City Manager Mike Sparks early last month visited GORO Co. officials in Shanghai and elsewhere in China.
“This trip represents what NETWORKS was set up to do,” Sparks said during the regular bimonthly NETWORKS board meeting Thursday at Northeast State Community College. NETWORKS is the joint economic development effort of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City.
Venable and Sparks met with officials of GORO Co., including GORO Conveyor Systems in Shanghai that makes fasteners for a conveyor company owned by Edgar Monsour, a Frenchman who lives mostly in China.
Venable said having an interpreter do real-time translations as well as voice-overs in Mandarin for NETWORKS’ promotional video and PowerPoint helped get points across to the non-English speakers.
Monsour, who owns conveyor distributor Cobra America in Bristol, also is a majority stockholder in GORO and is involved with conveyor and conveyor parts operations there and across Europe. Among other things, GORO fabricates conveyor parts at various operations in China.
All told, about 40 companies with 4,000 employees are involved in the interrelated companies, Sparks said.
The conveyors are used in the mining industry in Southwest Virginia, as well as in the food and manufacturing business, Sparks said.
Venable said Sullivan County is in the running with Missouri to attract the group’s first conveyor manufacturing operation in the United States.
In addition to the expected $6 million in capital investment and 35 to 50 employees from the conveyor making, Sparks said China has many investors who want to put their money into U.S. operations and has employees looking to have their children attend U.S. colleges and universities.
Since the trip, NETWORKS is following up by sending two videos back to China, one targeting GORO officials and the other more generic. Both include the thoughts and experiences of Chinese living in the area, with which Venable said GORO officials were impressed.
Plans are to host GORO officials in Sullivan County within a month.
Venable said he hopes a decision is forthcoming within a few months, although the opening of the conveyor making operations might be in 2014 or 2015.On other matters:
•NETWORKS officials said that the Select Tennessee applications for Partnership Park II in Bristol and Partnership Park III, also known as the Gateway Commerce Park in Kingsport, would not meet an April 27 deadline.
However, Venable said the deadline was arbitrary and that those two applications should be ready for the next round of considerations in September.Designation in the program, also being sought for Aviation Park 1 at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport and Partnership Park I, near the airport, indicates “shovel ready” property with utilities and road access already in place.
The total cost of those is about $40,000, and in addition the Kingsport Economic Development Board is seeking the designation for the Northeast Tennessee Business Park.
Tennessee prospects seeking immediate construction would be referred to the Select Tennessee sites only, but Sparks said NETWORKS is among the first in the state to even start the process of applying.
“I don’t think we’re really jeopardizing anything being one year ahead,” Sparks said of possible approval in late 2013 or early 2014.
“We thought it (environmental test result) would be back but it’s not,” Venable said. Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips responded, “Nothing would make me think the state will catch up.”
•Pathway Lending Senior Vice President Hank Helton Sr. gave a presentation on the nonprofit, which provides loans that banks can’t provide for small businesses at extended terms and with rates as low as 5 percent. It has offices on Commerce Street in Kingsport, in Knoxville and in Jackson and also provides 5-year, 2 percent loans for small business energy efficiency projects.
•The board welcomed newest member Greg Boehling, owner of TEC Industrial in Kingsport. Boehling replaces Craig Kilgore, who relocated from the area. Also recently joining the board was Jeffery Dykes, the new chief executive officer of the Johnson City Power Board. He replaces Homer G’Fellers, who recently retired from the power board and left the NETWORKS board.