Hamilton County Economic Developers Prefer McDonald Farm as Enterprise South-like Industrial Park
In what would be Hamilton County’s biggest land purchase for job growth in two decades, area economic developers like the idea of the government acquiring the 2,100-acre McDonald’s farm.
Since the county and Chattanooga agreed to purchase the former 7,000-acre Volunteer Army Ammunition Factory (VAAP) in Tyner, local officials have not considered measures to secure what some say is a emblematic site that could meet the needs of large industrial or light manufacturing users.
“There is a lot of potential,” said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga area chamber of commerce, of the Sale Creek area. “It’s a lot of dirt.”
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said officials are in the preliminary stages of evaluating the plot that sits next to US Highway 27 for use as an industrial park. Coppinger is working on a resolution to be submitted to the county commission in the coming weeks to fund an assessment and geotechnical assessment of the plot.
McDonald’s Farm in Sale Creek, Tenn.
Randy Fairbanks, the chairman of the county commission whose district includes McDonald Farm, said he and other panel members had scoured the site.
“It sounds very, very favorable,” he said. “There is a lot of beautiful land.”
But Fairbanks said due diligence must be undertaken to see if the property is usable for economic development.
“We don’t know all the facts about what might be usable,” he said, adding that he didn’t know the price of the property, which would also include around 300 acres in adjoining Rhea County.
Fairbanks said it could take four or five months to complete due diligence, and he would like to have town halls in his neighborhood to give residents a chance to speak out.
Roy Exum, one of the heirs to the property and grandson of the late founder of Chattanooga News-Free Press, Roy McDonald, has indicated that while the family is okay with selling, he is open to looking for other potential buyers than Hamilton County.
Yet David DeVaney, president of NAI Charter Real Estate Corp. in Chattanooga, said there was a shortage of industrial land for potential businesses to see.
“I am somewhat disappointed with what we have to present to them,” he said. “When a business is considering expanding or relocating, it usually envisions five or six different communities in a target area. We are losing the opportunity to truly attract manufacturers due to the lack of readily available land.
DeVaney compared McDonald’s Farm to the Enterprise South Industrial Park, which was dug into the VAAP site, where for decades ammunition has been produced for the US military.
After securing the vast territory, the city and county landed a Volkswagen assembly plant in 2008, which now employs 3,800 people and plans to hire 1,000 more as it expands to build a new electric SUV.
Enterprise South also owns Amazon’s massive distribution center, which employs more than 3,000 workers. Other employers in the industrial park include Gestamp and Plastic Omnium, ADM, Tag Manufacturing and eSpin.
DeVaney said that like the old VAAP site, McDonald Farm is not entirely flat and there are hills that may not allow industrial development. These parts of the track could be used for public recreation such as hiking and mountain biking trails, he said.
Wood said Enterprise South is almost running out of sites available for business. Apart from the roughly 300 acres that VW has freed for use by potential auto suppliers, there is only one parcel left and that’s around 10 acres, the official said.
The South Riverport Center off the Amnicola Highway still only has a 20-acre parcel available after Southern Champion Tray, the Chattanooga-based manufacturer of cardboard items for the bakery and restaurant industry, this summer announced plans to purchase a 56-acre site there.
Industrial parks in the city or county of Lookout Valley, Ooltewah and Bonny Oaks are full, Wood said.
The McDonald Farm property sits next to a US 27 limited-access highway and there is a rail line dividing the land, he said.
Wood said the farm did not have a sewer line, which would need to be routed to the site.
“You can build a sewer line, but it is difficult to build a four-lane divided highway and build a new railway line,” he said.
ABOUT THE SITE
The McDonald Farm has been home to the McDonald family for eight generations, according to its website. As a working farm, nearly 700 acres were used to grow hay and livestock.
James and Kitty McDonald first settled in the area at the foot of Walden’s Ridge in 1821. From that point on, the 2,100-acre farm has been continuously owned and operated by members of the McDonald family.
During the fall months, the farm welcomed visitors to the farm for activities such as pumpkin picking, making your way through a corn maze, petting baby farm animals, and taking hay walks.
While Hamilton County is part of a regional approach to economic development, Wood said there are few ready sites of around 100 acres in the 16-county area. McMinn County, Tennessee, may have one or two, but other possible locations aren’t close to freeways, he said.
Bradley County is launching its new Spring Branch Industrial Park, a 331-acre site just off Interstate-75. But Wood said the largest individual plot is 50 acres.
Doug Berry, vice president of economic development at the Cleveland / Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said more sites are needed in the region for industrial development and local governments need to buy and expand these for increased growth. of manufacturing.
“If we are to continue to improve our economy, we need to have assets that we have control over to negotiate packages for industrial prospects and which are just not sustainable for the private sector at the moment,” Berry said. “We need to ensure that the government invests in the necessary infrastructure to ensure that we have value-added jobs for the future. The fact that Chattanooga, Cleveland, and Dalton are manufacturing-driven communities, I think, has given us a stronger economy than the nation or state as a whole. “
Cleveland and Bradley County spent $ 12.7 million on Spring Branch, which has about 200 acres for manufacturing development, divided into nine lots.
“This is one of the largest industrial sites available in the region and interest has been strong,” said Berry, who added that he expects to land at least one new industrial prospect in the park in 2021. “But we could certainly use other sites in our region.
Wood said Dalton, Georgia’s newest industrial park, only has a few 20-30 acre plots.
“We’re very limited in the number of sites… over 100 acres,” he said.
In addition to a large site, large employers need a population base to support their workforce, Wood said.
“Being closer to Chattanooga helps,” he said.
In terms of potential users of the McDonald Farm site, more automobiles are possible. Also, battery assembly is another perspective, Wood said. VW in Chattanooga and Mercedes in Vance, Alabama, make electric vehicles, he said. In addition, a battery company could service household items, the chamber official said.
Plus, pharmaceutical manufacturers need big sites, he said.
Wood said that despite the coronavirus pandemic, he is seeing a lot of activity from a wide range of manufacturers. Companies that have imported goods are now considering locations in North America given the supply chain issues that emerged after China was locked down for a period due to the virus, he said.
Dave Flessner contributed to this report.
Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.