By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It was clearly one for the textbooks.
We’re referring to this week’s announcement by Advanced Munitions International, LLC (AMI) that it will invest more than $550 million, a number that could rise to $1 billion, and create more than 600 high-wage jobs in Blount County. And, it’s not just this win, but numerous others since 2010 that account for nearly $1.5 billion in new investments and 4,000 new jobs that the county has added.
They’re on a roll in a community that once was dominated by a single employer, but is now so diversified.
What are the folks in my birth county doing to be so successful? I think it was best explained by Jim Antich, AMI’s Founder and Executive Chairman, who simply said, “This community is like one; it’s amazing how they work together.”
Antich, a military veteran, said he had been developing property for 30 years, so he is no stranger to the process. During a recruitment by the state and the county that began just six months ago, the AMI Founder said he never really knew which Blount County jurisdiction was the actual location of the plant, corporate headquarters, and R&D facility.
It’s actually Partnership Park in Alcoa, but Antich praised all the elected leaders – Alcoa Mayor Don Mull, Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor, and Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell – for the seamless way they handled the negotiations.
Mull invoked the well-known phrase: “When you don’t care who gets the credit,” while Mitchell said very simply, “We (the Mayors and City Managers) are really good friends.”
Focusing on the opportunity in a strategic, seamless, coordinated fashion goes a long way, but that’s not the only consideration that played into the AMI decision. Two other factors were “pit bull” and “bullet boy.”
Antich told the attendees that the Arizona-based company was three weeks away from announcing AMI would build its new complex in an area near Austin, TX, when “pit bull,” better known as Alex Bertelli, started the chase for Tennessee after they met during the National Rifle Association annual gathering in Nashville.
Bertelli is a Project Manager with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development who asked Antich for an opportunity to have Tennessee considered. Seizing on the opening, Bertelli quickly presented 10 sites to AMI, with Blount County rising to the top.
Bryan Daniels and the team at the Blount Partnership swung into action. It helped that they had recently recruited Cirrus Aircraft to the community, and the computing and materials capabilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) were a factor in the decision by the Minnesota-based company to locate its news “Vision Center” here.
In fact, Cirrus even helped with the recruitment of AMI, sharing the reasons that it selected Blount County from a list of 30 airport sites it was evaluating. What better way to reinforce your story than to involve someone who had just gone through an extensive site evaluation process.
Then, there was the ORNL researcher affectionately known as “bullet boy.” His real name is Rick Lowden, and he told us he has been at the lab more than three decades. From separate conversations with Lowden and AMI Chief Executive Officer Lee Ploszaj, it is clear there is not only great mutual respect, but an excitement about the potential opportunities for research collaborations as AMI serves its clients in the military, law enforcement and civilian markets.
So, AMI found a perfectly set table – a county that not only talks but executes with a single voice, a welcoming environment, two unique individuals in “pit bull” and “bullet boy,” and great research assets that can help further accelerate an already fast-growing company.
Blount County, the State of Tennessee, and others had done their part. The decision was AMI’s. In explaining the company’s choice, Antich turned to the Bible, citing Proverbs 3:5 and simply saying, “I believe the good Lord directed our path to Blount County, Tennessee.”