- Associated Press - Friday, November 24, 2017

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee economic development officials want the state to pour another $72 million into a sprawling site that failed to land a new auto plant planned by a joint venture of Toyota and Mazda.

The Jackson Sun reports that the Memphis Regional Megasite has already received about $144 million in state funding. But Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe says the extra money is needed for wastewater, electrical, gas, water and railroad improvements to make the site spanning nearly 6.5 square miles (17 square kilometers) ready for prospective investors.

Rolfe says those updates would make the site located about 45 miles (73 kilometers) from downtown Memphis “shovel ready.” It was that lack of finishing touches that led to the Toyota-Mazda decision to build its plant elsewhere. The $1.6 billion facility is projected to create up to 4,000 jobs and have an annual production capacity of about 3,000 vehicles.

“We’ve got to work as one unit to make this thing happen,” said Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith. “West Tennessee is a great place, but we have to sell ourselves as one unit to whoever comes. It’s got to be local governments, state government - and not just local government Haywood County but local government all over West Tennessee.”

While West Tennessee is working to complete its site, an effort to create another megasite outside Nashville is drawing some opposition.

The Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville reports that residents near the proposed site straddling Montgomery and Robertson counties are collecting signatures in opposition to the development.

Debra Moore, who said she lives “almost next-door” to the site located about a mile south of the Kentucky line, said residents are worried about the potential changes a major industrial development would have.

“The people out there are concerned about the impact on the farmland, which is some of the best farmland in our county, as well as the additional debt that (Montgomery) county would take on,” she said.

People chose to live in the rural area because “they want to get away from the city,” Moore said. “They want the quiet lifestyle.”

About two-thirds of the land is in Montgomery County, while the remaining third is in Robertson County.

Robertson County Mayor Howard Bradley said he has heard little opposition to the proposed development.

“I understand the concerns of the people who live nearby,” Bradley said. “But, ultimately, in this instance, the biggest part of the decision comes down to the landowners. If they want a megasite, there’s nothing either county can do to prevent it if they’re following planning and zoning regulations.”

Robertson County Economic Development Board Chairman Roger Blackwood said in statement that the goal of developing a megasite is to create quality jobs for residents.

“Over 62 percent of our workforce leaves Robertson County every day and the type of project that this megasite would attract would bring those higher wage jobs to us,” he said. “In fact, this type of project would actually increase tax revenues collected in Robertson County, without raising taxes on anyone.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility, oversees the megasite certification process. To fully qualify, sites need more than 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of space, rail and interstate access, infrastructure including roads, sewer, water and electricity or plans to install them and letters of intent from property owners to sell their land.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said having more than one potential megasite in Tennessee can be key to landing major investors.

“One of the issues we have now is that we have is when we have companies that come in and want large sites, right now we just have the West Tennessee megasite,” Haslam told reporters earlier this month. “When we only have one, it’s a limitation.”

Haslam welcomed efforts to develop the new site.

“We think there’s some real long-term value in them developing that for us to have another alternative for somebody that might want to be in the middle part of the state,” he said.

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